The worth of battered books, and us (plus a sneak peek into Book 8)

I woke up dreaming of a battered book. I’d been thumbing through it and wincing that poor-quality sticky notes had left yellow squares on pages, along with what I suspected was coffee or soda splotches. And that brown smear? Oh, I hoped it was chocolate.

I sighed in frustration. Not that long ago the book was brand new, but it had suffered from living in a student’s backpack for a few months.

The dream was so vivid probably because I recently went through my classroom novels and grumbled that books which I had purchased at the beginning of the year were now filthy and being held together by . . . sheer determination?

But the words that went through my mind as I woke from my dream were, “So what? The words are still readable, the story still wonderful. It’s worth isn’t lessened because the book’s been misused.

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I’ve met a lot of people who have been treated horribly, yet have beautiful stories to tell, maybe because of the mistreatment. They hold together through sheer determination, which makes them even more valuable.

 

Young Pere scoffed quietly. “I know what you’re suggesting, but who would want someone like me? After all I’ve done and been through?”

“No one’s perfect, Young Pere. Everyone has less-than-impressive moments. We all hope someone will forgive us of those moments and let us move on. Could you love someone who made mistakes in their past but feels about them now the way you feel about yours?

He pondered that. “I think . . . I think I could.”

~Book 8–The Last Day–coming Summer 2018

Book 7 teaser–Are you being forced or are you allowed to choose?

I’ve discovered the easiest way to decide what’s “right” and what’s “wrong”: by asking, “Am I being forced to accept this?”

If someone lays out the facts, then takes a step back to let me ponder and evaluate, then I’m much more inclined to accept their position.

But if someone tries to force their ideas on me, I dig in my heels and refuse to budge, because something is fundamentally wrong with the argument if it must be forced to be accepted.

And it doesn’t matter who or for what cause they’re forcing. I’ve known very religious people try to force their children/spouses to obey them. I’ve known agnostics and atheists do the same thing.

Force is always wrong, because it takes away a person’s agency: their God-given right to choose for themselves. And it IS God-given. That’s not a nicety, but a reality.

No ideology, political group, religious organization, government or family member has the right to force their opinion and will upon another. If someone is trying to control another, you can be sure they are acting devilish. That’s not an euphemism, but a fact: Satan is all about control, about force, about taking away freedoms. Lucifer is real, and his influence is very easy to spot. If someone’s trying to control you, there he is.

God, however, is not about control or force. Many religious groups and zealots, however, will hijack the notion of “god” and appropriate it as their own, pretending that their cause is god-driven and therefore you must follow. But the only god they’re following is the one they made up; they’re worshiping themselves and want you as a follower.

God, on the other hand, sent us to this earth as a testing ground. He wants us to choose right or wrong, good or evil, and He so values our freedom that, when we make mistakes, He’s even given us a way to fix them. He sent His son, Jesus Christ, to pay for our sins so we could come back to Him.

BUT–and this is a big BUT–only if we want to.

God is our Father, and like any good father He wants His children back home. But He will never force us back, never force His will. He sets out His terms, His promises, His hopes, then takes a step back and lets us choose for ourselves.

That is love.

Satan is not.

And every last argument in the world plays into either of these two courts: Are you being forced, or are you allowed to choose?

“You can’t force your will on someone,” Peto would say as he hauled the flailing teenager to the barn, “and demand they do what you want. That’s the Refuser’s way, not the Creator’s way. The Creator allows everyone to choose their way, even if it’s the stupid way. But the Refuser wants to control everyone’s lives. That’s not our way!” ~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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Book 7 Teaser–Does “the dogma live loudly within you”?

Last week Senator Diane Feinstein tried to shame a judicial nominee, Amy Barrett, law a professor at Notre Dame and a Catholic mother of seven children, for her religiosity. Feinstein said, “the dogma lives loudly within you.”

It was meant as an accusation for Barrett’s devotion to her religion.

But I can’t imagine great praise being leveled at anyone. To be so true to your convictions that others can witness you “living loudly”? Shouldn’t that be what we all hope can be said of our lives?

Catholics have marvelously embraced this phrase, employing the hashtag “dogmalivesloudly”. Others are saying it’s their new mantra, their goal in life, that everyone can see exactly how they live.

I’m not Catholic but a fellow Christian, and when I read about this yesterday (I missed it while following all the hurricane news), my arms tingled. I have no idea who this Professor Barrett is, but suddenly I really want to meet her.

Often I’ve heard that Christians should be recognized by how they live, that their examples should be obvious. The Apostle Paul proclaimed, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” (Romans 1:16) and he definitely lived as he believed.

But such “living loudly” frightens some people, understandably. Remember how the Apostle Paul died, as a martyr? As did Peter, James, Stephen . . . well, just about all of the Savior’s apostles died because they “lived loudly.”

Not that I’m suggesting that holding firm to our Christian beliefs means that we can expect martyrdom, but to be honest, that has happened, and is happening, and will happen in the future.

The world doesn’t like Christianity, but that’s ok, because the approval of the world isn’t what we’re after. We’re here only temporarily. (Atheists, on the other hand, think this life is all there is, so getting everything they want right now turns them a bit dogmatic in their own ways.)

This earth life is merely a blip in our existence, a brief sneeze of time, but such a very important one. It’s an all-inclusive test, to see what we’ll believe, what we’ll pursue, and what our hearts really want.

What we do here tells God what we want to do next. And that “next” is going to be an eternity. That’s why we Christians are also so dogmatic about getting things right.

And why we shouldn’t be afraid to live loudly. Professor Barrett has inspired me, fortified me, helped me realize there are lots of us out there, and that I shouldn’t be afraid to live my Christianity loudly.

Peto grinned at his wife. “So last night made up for yesterday?” he asked.

“Oh, yes,” Lilla said fervently. “The Creator made up for it in grand style.” She looked up at the sky. “THANK YOU!” she hollered.

Peto and Shem flinched in embarrassment as a few people in their fields looked around in confusion. They waved uncertainly at the four riders, not sure what the loud thanks was for, and Shem and Peto waved back, trying not to snort. 

Calla chuckled at her sister. “Why not? THANK YOU!” she called to the sky.

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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Book 7 teaser–He still had a foundation, and something new could be built for him

I go walking a few times each week, and yesterday went exploring a quiet, tracked lane by myself. It’s not hard to lure me into the woods, and I was surprised to soon find myself on a peninsula with untouched fields of wild blueberries and black berries.

And I also found boulders!

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I felt like I had stumbled into Edge!

But what I found at the end of the peninsula surprised me most of all: ruins.

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I know this area has been inhabited by colonists since the late 1600s, by Native Americans for far longer than that (they’re the ones who dined on blueberries and lobsters hundreds, if not thousands, of years before anyone).

But these stones took my breath away. My first thought was, “This foundation’s still standing!”

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With a little weeding (ok, getting those trees out might take a little longer) and some reshifting of stone, another house could feasibly be built there. Carefully fitted, these stones had remained solid for who knows how long.

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Today I told my archaeologist daughter about what I found yesterday, and in ten seconds she sent me a link: I had “discovered” the remnants of Fort Foster, built in 1776 during the Revolutionary War to keep East Machias, Maine, safe from the British.

A forest, boulders, AND a fort?! I HAVE found Edge!

As for these stones, I don’t know how long they’ve been there; because the fort was mostly berms, these stones were likely part of some settlement structure before or after.

But they gave me goosebumps. Through years, through storms, through prosperity and poverty, this sure foundation has remained. 

I thought about the horrific flooding in Texas, and I have no doubt that when the waters finally recede, and the devastation is fully realized, there will be something that remains: solid foundations. Marking where homes and lives used to be, and perhaps inviting lives to rebuild again.

In fact, in every devastation I’ve seen people face, as long as they have a solid foundation–a rock upon which they’ve based their lives–they can continue.

I was so struck with these images that I ran home and added new lines to Book 7 which I thought was finished. But, like everything, there’s always room to keep building and growing:

So often he’d found it hard to see himself, as if he were looking deep into his soul and was terrified by what he’d find, but tonight he wanted to see what was there. And what he saw someone a little lost but finally on the right track. He also saw his grandfather looking back at him.

He suddenly remembered the ruins of their burned house outside of the fort. Despite all that had happened to it, the foundation was still there and strong, and something new could be built upon it.

Then he understood. He still had a foundation, and something new could be built for him. ~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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Book 7 Teaser: Tell God what you want!

“Your problem is that you haven’t told God that you need a miracle. Tell him! Demand a miracle!” That was the advice my friend gave me when, seventeen years ago, we were drowning.

I was pregnant with my 6th, my husband had lost his job and the part-time job he had in the meantime wasn’t paying, and my adjunct contract wasn’t going to be renewed because of budget cuts. We were falling behind in our mortgage payments and our savings were gone. Very soon we’d be in very dire circumstances.

“Tell God exactly what you need and get that miracle!” my friend insisted.

So I prayed—earnestly and daily—telling God what I wanted: a good-paying job for my husband so that we could meet our financial obligations, and the ability to keep the house we’d built so our family could be raised in a great neighborhood.

Not much—just what all of our other friends and family had. Not a fancy car, not a dream vacation, not a huge house—just the bare necessities.

Others also prayed in our behalf—intently and constantly—until finally the miracle came: my husband got a job.

But the not-so-miraculous part was that it was 2,000 miles away from that great neighborhood and my family.

And it wasn’t going to pay enough.

And we’d have to leave our house.

But maybe, just maybe—it’d be ok?

With enormous reluctance and huge tears, we moved our family cross county, put our house up for sale, and waited for the next miracles.

But they didn’t come as I demanded. Where we’d moved was outrageously expensive, and my husband’s education-based income would never cover rent, so he found yet another job, this one a couple hundred miles away, leaving me and our six children to mooch off of his family for several months.

The sale of our house fell through—four times—and because we couldn’t get caught up on the payments during those eight months, it was going into foreclosure with letters sent to us almost daily from lawyers and banks.

I was so humiliated and depressed, alone and still drowning. Did we not have enough faith to make those miracles happen? What more was I supposed to do to get my prayers answered? What did I still lack? Why wouldn’t God give me what I needed and what our family deserved?

I began to realize something: demanding miracles from God wasn’t how it was supposed to work. God is not, as Harry Emerson Fosdick once quipped, “a cosmic bellboy for whom we can press a button and get things done.”

Maybe I wasn’t praying for the right things. Maybe I didn’t even know what those “right things” were?

So I stopped telling God what I wanted and needed, and started asking Him to help me understand. I asked Him to change my heart to be submissive, to meekly take whatever was thrown at us. I was so low anyway, I didn’t have anything else to lose. I was hopeless, in heart and spirit.

I was broken. That’s what God was waiting for.

That’s when miracles began.

Miracle #1–We found a house to rent across the street from my husband’s new job. It was condemned and would be torn down in six months, had mice and skunks (in the cellar) and roaches, but we could live there for $350/month and be a family again for a while. The fact that I was grateful for such accommodations after living apart for eight months? Miraculous. (I’ve written about this house before here.)

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And when it rained, water poured in on all the edges where the walls met the ceiling. But that was ok, because the vines growing in the house needed to be watered.

Miracle #2–We finally found a buyer for our old house, and the day before it was to be sold at auction we closed on it and were able to negotiate payments for the second mortgage, which wasn’t covered, down to a reasonable rate. We paid it off five years later.

Miracle #3–Astonishingly, the mortgage company hadn’t reported our delinquency properly, and on our credit report was only that we’d missed one monthly payment. Our credit rating fell a bit, but three months later we were in a position to buy a brand new house at $600/month.

A full year after I TOLD God what I wanted, I realized I was in a completely different situation than I’d ever imagined but . . . I liked it!

Our new life was giving us experiences that we never could have had any other way. Our kids were flourishing, our new house was adorable, my husband loved his job, and I had work as well.

And I was very glad that God did NOT listen to my demands.

A couple years ago we drove through our old neighborhood to see the dream house we had left and lost in 2000. I was so grateful that we did NOT raise our kids there. Not that there was anything wrong with the neighborhood, but I realized how limited and narrow our lives would have been had we never left, instead of the wealth of experiences God gave us instead by forcing us away.

He knew what we really wanted, rather than what we thought we should have.

The real problem, it turned out, wasn’t that I needed to demand a miracle and insist on my ways, but that I needed to ask God what His ways were for us. And His ways have always been far, far better.

     With growing despair, he sat back on his heels. It was time to send the general a message.

    “It’s the right thing to do, right, Puggah?” he whispered.

     It’s an intriguing idea, Young Pere. But is it the right idea?

     “Well, you did it! At least, you were trying to do it, then did it in another way—”

      Young Pere, think about that—I tried to do it but failed. It wasn’t meant to be. It isn’t meant to be with you, either. 

     He scoffed. “But you just said it was intriguing!”

     Yes it is. But just because it’s an intriguing idea doesn’t mean it’s the right idea. Especially when the Creator has something much better in mind. 

~Book 7, The Soldier in the Middle of the World, coming October 2017

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Move from Utah to Maine, Day 4–Welcome to the east, Kirtland, and our 29th anniversary

(Current location, Batavia, NY, a town in upstate New York which has at least four different ways to pronounce it and we’re probably still not saying it correctly.)

Something strange happened as I stepped out of our hotel this morning into the heavy, warm, humid air of Ohio. Memories rushed me, and it was as if I were for the first time in many years eating a dessert my grandmother had made me but I’d forgotten about. The mugginess, the trees, the farms, the gray air—suddenly I remembered all about living in Virginia for five years and thought, “Wait a minute—I LIKE this!”

Driving through Ohio, Pennsylvania, and New York has felt like the states are welcoming me back (we’d visited here a few times over a decade ago), like they’re that friend you had in high school that you forgot all about until she friends you on Facebook, and you think, “Oh yeah! YOU! Oh, I forgot you! I’m so glad we’re together again!”

The east coast is my forgotten high school friend. Every mile I’m getting more excited to renew our friendship.

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Why yes, I do DO feel welcomed!

Shortly after this I heard my 5 and 9-year-olds in the back seat having the following conversation:

“Housebuilder and General Grievous want to come over to play.”

“Ok, but we have to move the silly putty and get out the magnifying glass.”

I just don’t know, I really don’t.

I have to put in a plug about my kids—my three oldest take turns driving and willingly take the younger ones to the restrooms, get them treats, and make sure no one’s missing. Everyone has tasks, and they are all good about retrieving the radios to be recharged, getting everyone’s bags and coolers into the hotel, and packing everything up again. This cart below will be packed to the top before it gets to the elevator:

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(Shortly after this, another woman used this trolley putting on it three small grocery bags. I nearly scoffed and said, “Lady, THAT’S not the way to use that trolley!”)

I don’t even have to deal with my 5-year-old at night because his 20-year-old brother takes care of him. I am incredibly grateful that they are all remaining good-natured, cheerful, and willing each day. They wake up on time, get themselves to the breakfast buffet (which is the BEST part of each day—all kinds of food that I didn’t have to make and that I don’t have to clean up!) then they make seating arrangements, my 18 and 20-year-old trading off driving the minivan depending upon who’s the least tired, my 17-year-old acts as servant to his siblings sitting behind us in the big van, and the 13-year-old is my husband’s navigator in the moving truck.

I thought today, on our 29th wedding anniversary, that my husband and I have been blessed with incredibly good kids, and that they are who they are not because of anything we’ve done raising them, but because they came to us that way. We don’t deserve any of it, I know.

I’m writing today from Batavia, NY, which isn’t too far away from Toledo, OH, and although Siri had us get on and off and on and off the freeway around Cleveland pointlessly (but we got lots of views of it, as you can see below), that’s not why we made so little progress.

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We took a detour to Kirtland, OH, for four hours where we visited the Mormon church sites where the early pioneers were in the 1830s and saw their store, houses, sawmill, and ashery.

(I had NO idea such a thing existed: burn ashes?! That’s like watering water!)

We then took a tour of the Kirtland Temple owned by the Community of Christ and heard the same history, but with different angles which proved to be excellent family discussion during lunch at yet another Wendy’s (although my 17 year old snuck in a Little Caesar’s pizza), comparing the different takes on the history.

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Twelve years ago we did the tour of the Kirtland Temple where the young tour guide pointed out only the architecture, but this time a preacher of the Church of Christ named Rick led the tour. He actually talked about the spiritual significance of the structure, and led our group of fourteen tourists in singing the first verse of “The Spirit of God Like a Fire is Burning.” That’s always been my favorite hymn, and I will never be able to forget the experience of our few out-of-tune voices singing it there in the room where it was first performed and where so many important and fantastic experiences occurred. It was all I could do to keep from tearing up. Our tone-deaf singing actually sounded good together, for probably the first and last time ever.

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We got into our hotel room at a decent hour (before 9 pm!) for once, and compared notes about if the pleasant toll booth worker was perhaps a different gender than they were dressed up to be. My husband now has foot cramps, and my sons are punching his feet to make them feel better. It’s not working, but still they valiantly try with even more punches. I’m doing a load of laundry now, enjoying the broken dryer which runs continuously without any coins needed, wondering what else I could throw in there just for fun.

Tomorrow we’re heading to Palmyra, NY for some touring and then on to New Hampshire, where I’ve always wanted to visit and always wanted to say this:

(Interesting note–that movie was actually filmed in Virginia where we used to live, so actually we WERE in the movie New Hampshire, not the real one. Actually, none of that was really interesting, so just never mind.)

Move from Utah to Maine, Day 2–Siri lies, “Housebuilder” joins us, and Nebraska is as long as Wyoming

Our 9.5 hour drive took 14+ hours, and I still don’t know why. But we made it to Indianoloa, Iowa, and while I hoped to be more coherent this evening, that ain’t gonna happen, so let’s not even pretend. But I did find a way to download my photos!

Here’s my view of my husband’s big yellow butt that I wrote about yesterday:

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You know how many anagrams you can make from the word “Penske”? Yeah, that many. I have all the words on the truck memorized, and will for the rest of my life.

Here’s what went on today:

5-year-old son woke up so disoriented that he hid in a closet for ten minutes until we lured him out with his new Star Wars underwear. He came out of the closet for Yoda. (Something about that sentence isn’t right, but I’m not sure what yet.)

My husband asked his phone how much road construction there will be after we funneled once again into one lane. It told him the next 3,000 miles were only one lane, but it lied–we had at least five miles of double lanes.

Thank goodness my 5 y.o. is enthralled by long trains and small cows and his new Webkind travel buddy: a gray-and-white koala he’s inexplicably called “Housebuilder.” Housebuilder is best friends with a Bop-It BB8 toy/game our friends gave us as a travel gift. My youngest left them alone in the van so they could eat in private. They sat on his blanket, but I have no idea what they ate while we had lunch at a Veterans’ Memorial park in Nebraska.

Below is my brilliant idea: We bought a ton of snacky foods, divided them, and put them in baggies with people’s names on them. Now each person can eat whatever they like during the trip without bugging anyone to reach into a bin to find something good. I’d show you a picture of mine, but it’s only full of gluten-free, high fiber nutrition treats because I already ate all of my Skittles.

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When a person’s mind gets bored in Nebraska (about as dull as Wyoming, although my 13 y.o. asked to go back to Wyoming because he thought it was slightly more interesting) one starts to look for anything to think of.

But was I composing the prequel to my book series or contemplating the deeper meanings of the cosmos? No. I was obsessed with this trailer I was stuck behind for ten miles:

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IT’S SO WRONG!

First, I spent three full minutes trying to understand “Dont dead, open inside,” until I realized they intended you to read it TOP to BOTTOM. Hey, this isn’t Japan, you know.

Next, WHERE’S THE FREAKING APOSTROPHE?! I got real close (probably too close) searching the sloppy font for it in the DONT, but it’s not there! I even took this photo while driving, looking for apostrophic evidence.

Then I spent the next five minutes running Mission Impossible/Wile Coyote scenarios in my mind as to how I could create a suspension bridge between us, take the Sharpie I had in the van, inch over to the back of the trailer, and FIX THE WORDS!

Then I spent the next too many minutes thinking, “Why would you put zombies in a nice trailer? Transport them in cattle cars–they won’t care: THEY’RE UNDEAD!”

Man, was I glad when that trailer pulled away.

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The items in our trailer are slowly trying to escape. Can you guess what we’re transporting? Two of the pokey-outy-bits have me stumped, and I helped put the tarp on it.

There’s a particular bathroom at a gas station in Nebraska where the men’s urinal is unfortunately placed in relation to the door. Please don’t ask how I know that.

17 y.o. figured out how to take a picture!

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He snapped this and smugly said, “Because of my skill in computer games, I can point and shoot just about anything.”

The reason I don’t have any pictures of the Welcome to Iowa sign is because while we were driving I asked him to open my gluten-free loaf of bread package, and the pressurized bag exploded on him as he ripped it open with his teeth, and he was momentarily overwhelmed by gluten-free gas just as we got on to bridge crossing the Missouri River. Seriously.

Announced on the radio by my husband: “It’s 100% today–every RV is driven by someone with a mustache.” Which sent me on another deep-thought adventure: Is it required that people grow a mustache BEFORE they purchase the RV, or does the RV then make people think, “I need a ‘stache to go along with this”? What about the women? These thoughts kept me going for nearly half an hour, I’m sorry to report.

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Evidence that we’re getting closer to Ron Swanson territory. I’m waiting anxiously to find a “Food and Stuff.”

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I didn’t need a sign to tell me this.

To pretend this trip is something of a vacation, we stopped in Winter Quarters, Nebraska, where Mormon Pioneers fled after being expelled from Illinois, and where they prepared to head to Salt Lake City. We had only an hour there, but realizing that we spent two days driving what took pioneers MONTHS to do was humbling and refreshing.

Here they told us that across the street was a burial ground of 300+ pioneers, more than half of them children who died along the way. Heck, we haven’t lost one of ours yet.

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Then we went to take a picture of the tiny temple there and look at the cemetery, where we could read the names and ages of every last pioneer who died there.

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Then I tried to take selfies of us in front of the temple.

My selfie skills are surpassed.

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I don’t think people are looking. Let’s try that again.

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Did someone get cut off? One more time:

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I feel like people aren’t taking this seriously. Again?

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Ok, something’s seriously wrong with my 13 y. o. He’s the one who thinks Wyoming was more interesting than Nebraska. See if you can pick him out.

It’s now after midnight, and tomorrow (today?) we hope to get somewhere in Ohio, hopefully before midnight. Good night.

What if we just quit bothering with the world? The easiness of essentialism.

What if, instead of worrying about the world and its expectations, we focused on only a couple of key items and let the rest of world just . . . go on its way?

Think about that: maybe there’s only a handful of things we really need to worry about, and as for the millions of other demands the world makes upon us we just ignore them.

Wouldn’t that be amazing?

My friend clued me into “Essentialism,” which redefines minimalism and suggests that we should “discern what is absolutely essential, then eliminate everything that is not.” Greg McKeon argues that we get too caught up in the non-essentials: “non-essentialism is this idea that everything has to be done and that you have to do it all. Everything is equally important so therefore I have to try to do it all. That’s an idea — if I can do it all, I can have it all.”

But what if we don’t bother with doing it all? Why would we want it all anyway?

What if we quit following every news outlet, every fashion, every new-and-latest thing, every competition and demand for our attention, and focus instead on only a few ESSENTIAL points?

We’d be a heckuva lot happier!

Consider how simpler life would be if we:

  • stopped fretting that our houses aren’t up to date (no, you don’t have to put shiplap on every wall),
  • that our kids aren’t excelling in every sport/musical instrument/dance/karate/theatrical production (freeing up afternoons and weekends),
  • that we’re not on top of every trend (anyone remember how fast Pokemon Go came and went? Men’s rompers will go the same way, so don’t give them another thought). 
  • And what if we let the world go on its way . . . without us?

I think about life in the 1800s, how people focused on survival, their immediate family and neighbors, their little communities, and had no idea what the gossip was on the other side of the state or the world. They could think about real things, urgent things, important things.

Whereas we think about silly, petty, and divisive things.

But we don’t have to. We can center our lives on very few priorities and shut out everything else.

So what would those priorities be? How about the only thing that really matters: developing Christlike attributes.

To become like Him is the main reason we’re on this earth, going through this trial of life to see what our hearts really want, and to see how we can become more like Him. And you know what? I’m thinking more and more that being like Christ is the best and only worry I need.

And that “worry” isn’t even a concern. Look what He said in Matthew 11:

 28 Come unto me, all ye that labor [to keep up with the demands of the world] and are heavy laden [with the world’s expectations], and I will give you rest [because we set that all aside].

29 Take my yoke upon you [and throw off what the world expects of you], and learn of me [instead of the world]; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls [because I teach the peaceable things of the kingdom].

30 For my yoke is easy [way easier than anything the world demands], and my burden is light [lighter than anything the world shoves upon you].

Matthew 11:28, We find rest in Christ

And that’s all there is to it.

People assume that because I have nine kids I’m constantly busy and harried. But the truth is–and sometimes I’m embarrassed to admit it–I’m not. Quite often I can spend hours each day in pursuits I enjoy–writing, reading, researching–because we don’t bother with the non-essentials.

My kids aren’t involved in many activities; we don’t run around endlessly every afternoon from one thing to another–I let them entertain themselves like some 1970s throwback mom. I don’t demand perfect grades from them (grades aren’t an indicator of future success anyway), but I let them push themselves, which they do.

My house isn’t spotless or trendy (I’ve got better things to do), I make simple meals for dinner, and, frankly, I’m pretty relaxed most of the time. I almost feel guilty about that . . . but then I decide I don’t need to bother with worldly guilt, either, and let the feeling go.

We take care of each other, study the gospel, go to church, play together, educate each other and . . . that’s about it. Easy.

I am, however, trying to increase the amount of time I spend on others, trying to find additional ways we can be of service, because that’s really the purpose of life: taking care of others as Christ did.

The apostle James put it in simple terms:

27 Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction [taking care of the vulnerable and needy around us], and to keep himself unspotted from the world [ignore the world].  ~ James 1:27

That’s it. Only two things, just like Christ said to the lawyer in Matthew 22:

37 Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind [not giving any of your heart, soul, or mind to the world which will treat you cruelly].

38 This is the first and great commandment [which will keep you unspotted and unburdened by the world].

39 And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself [by taking care of the vulnerable and needy].

40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets [and you need not bother about anything else].

Simple, sweet, and satisfying! (Unlike the world.)

We can do that. Anyone can do that.

And we should, because consider these words of Christ:

36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall again the whole world [be accepted by it, follow its trends and demands religiously], and lose his own soul? [Worldliness kills the soul—simple as that.]  ~Mark 8:36

I’m not saying it’s easy to shut out the world. I’ve been working on doing that for quite some time now, trying to cut off more and more connections to it, especially through social media. Our family quit TV and radio some years ago (just getting rid of advertisements significantly increased peace in our lives). There are still many aspects I struggle with, and likely will my entire life. It’s hard to live in the world and not have some of it rub off on you, like trying to squeeze between muddy elephants without getting dirty.Image result for herd of muddy elephants

Purposely not doing what everyone else around you is can be a little disconcerting. Sometimes I suffer from FOMO: fear of missing out. But just because the crowd is insistent, just because you feel the need to be like everyone else, you don’t have to be. This image, which I ran across many years ago, has seared deeply into my soul. I want to be that guy.

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I’m discovering that when I ask God how I can step further away from the world so that I can be closer to Him, He gives me ideas, nudges me away from distractions and gently prods me toward more important activities. He wants me and my family to be unspotted, and He wants to ease our burdens. I have full confidence that He can get us all the way where we need—and want—to be, because, awesomely, He’s already done it himself:

“These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace [because haven’t you grown weary of keeping up with the world yet?]. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world [and so can you].”  ~John 16:3

     “You look so tired, Young Pere. So weary, my sweet boy. Did you ever have a day of peace in the world?”
     “No,” he sighed. “Not that I remember.”
     “Then isn’t it time to let go of the world?”
     ~Book 8 (Yes, there’s a book 8!)

The Internet Civility Award (TICA): Who will you award it to?

The other day something astonishing happened on my Facebook page.
Friend #1 posted his feelings about government spending, and Friend #2 chimed in with an opposing viewpoint.
Friend #1 presented more evidence.
Friend #2 countered and began to escalate.
This is the astonishing part: Friend #1 explained his beliefs, then APOLOGIZED if he stepped on Friend #2’s toes.
Even weirder, Friend #2 responded by saying no apology was necessary and that SHE was sorry for getting emotional.

AND THAT WAS IT. CIVILITY! Kindness! Respect!
They remained friends, and everyone went merrily on.

I, however, messaged both of them and told them I believed they each earned The Internet Civility Award (TICA). Since there wasn’t one yet, I couldn’t give it. But here it is now. (Yes, I just made this up.)

TICA The Internet Civility Award

Copy and paste this on anyone’s social media page to recognize them for kindness and respect.

I’ve written about civility before, but lately I’ve been watching for it, and it’s out there. For example, the LDS Church (Mormons) recently announced plans to build a temple in Pocatello, ID, and a Muslim family who lives there posted publicly on Facebook that they were happy for their LDS friends.

Muslims and Mormons

CIVILITY! Kindness! Respect!

In looking for examples of civility to share with my children, we recently became addicted to “The Great British Baking Show,” not because we’re any good at baking, but because we love watching the contestants. It’s a competition, with each week a Star Baker identified, and someone sent home.

The amazing thing is watching these contestants HELP each other, GIVE each other advice, and when one of them wins, they CHEER their fellow competitor. And when someone gets sent home, they WEEP genuine tears for their loss.

Image result for the great british baking show hugging  Image result for the great british baking show hugging

CIVILITY! Kindness! Respect!

I realized the need to point out good behavior to my children during last year’s presidential election. My kids read over my shoulder when I’m on Facebook, looking for movie trailers and videos of screaming goats. My 9-year-old was stunned to see the posts of supposedly “mature” adults she knew, calling candidates names and behaving very uncivilly.

My 4th grader said, “That person’s a GROWN-UP! Why isn’t he acting like one?”

That great question led to a discussion about kindness and respect for all people, if we like them or not. Everyone deserves kindness. Everyone.

She agreed with me that we should unfollow this person, along with a few others, who didn’t demonstrate “grown-up” behavior online.

But I want to reward those who act like mature and civil adults (even if they’re still kids), so I will be awarding TICA  TICA The Internet Civility Awardto those who demonstrate excellent behavior in the face of rudeness, intolerance, and anger, and I’d love for you to join me.

When you see someone approach a conflict with grace and dignity, with kindness and respect, paste this image to them and let the world know that here’s a person who still knows how to behave.

TICA The Internet Civility Award

Maybe if we point out civil behavior more often, more of it might occur.

“That’s the way to respond! With respect like that, you’re already two weeks ahead of everyone else.”

~Book 6, The Flight of the Wounded Falcon, coming May 2017

The Best Spot in the world may not be where you think it is

There isn’t One Best Place in the world.

That came to me Tuesday as perfectly clear blue skies tempted me outside, despite 19 degree temperatures. My winter brain desperately needed the sunshine.

Besides, I got the impression that Maine was trying very hard to win me over during my last hours.

(Which was a smart play on Maine’s part, since my flight that day was canceled because of mechanical issues, and as I typed this the next day at the airport hotel, I watched in dread as the snow came down; another flight delay.)

I arrived seven days earlier to get to know coastal Maine, where my husband already lives and works, and where we’re planning to move in June.

Everyone has been gushing, “Ooh,  Maine! It’s so pretty there!” But in the dead of winter, I don’t believe there’s any place in the northern hemisphere that rates as “pretty.” Everything appears as the equivalent of, “Ugh, morning hair, forgot the makeup, frumpy clothes—just be grateful I showed up today.” Such places shine and glow in the summer, but everything seems to frown and snarl in the winter.

Snow is pretty only for the first hour; after that, misery.

Except for Tuesday when the blue skies waved its big hand at me and said, “Come on! We look decent right now—take a look!” So I bundled up, headed out of the school grounds where my husband lives and works, and soon found myself on an old track deep in the forest.

And this was a true forest, with old growth and ground thick with hundreds of years of plant matter, making parts of it spongy and springy where the ground wasn’t frozen. Despite the cold, a little spring insisted on trickling, and a squirrel next to it gave me the eye, as if wondering why I was there.

And this forest won me over:

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Darn it.

I was suddenly in Edge, in the forests above it which I originally patterned after Yellowstone (hence the hot pots and sulfur vents). But these forests were a very close, very nearly perfect, The Next Spot.

You know “The Spots,” right? The places you envision yourself being—the Dream House Spot, the Best Vacation Spot, The Cruise Spot, The Job Spot . . . The Spot.

I have been living in THE Spot for the past eight years, close to family, universities, shopping, and mountains. After having moved a dozen times in our marriage, I was sure we were set to stay.

Only, THE Spot doesn’t seem to be The Final Spot. Maine may not be The Final Spot either. However, for decades my husband has imagined Maine to be THE Spot, so when he was offered a job last year, seemingly out of the blue, he couldn’t resist.

I came for the week, trying to see this as THE Spot, and as I wandered in that forest I realized that there are many Good Spots. Millions of them, actually.

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(Just the regular run of the mill view as I ambled on a walking path . . . ho-hum.)

Do you ever wonder why people live in such diverse places, and in such varying ways?

Because there is not One Way To Live.

There is not, nor has there ever been, an Ideal Spot, a Perfect Home Town.

Some folks struggle with the idea that there isn’t a “ONE and ONLY TRUE WAY TO LIVE.” To them, Home Town is THE best Spot in the world; one can ONLY cheer for (fill in the name) university’s football team; vacations MEANS sitting at the beach; and pizza should have ONLY pepperoni and sausage toppings. Don’t even bring up pineapple.

They’re astonished to learn that others don’t want to move to their town, they don’t even follow football, vacations are some place different every year, and they prefer calzones. No, people aren’t ill-informed or plain stupid for not wanting to be exactly like everyone else, living in exactly the same way and place.

Because oh, what problems we’d have if everyone wanted the same things! It’s vital that different places, customs, and notions of “ideal” are wide and varied, in scope and depth, or seven billion of us would all be sitting on top of each other in one tiny Spot! (Which, I’ve learned from an acquaintance, people who live in New York City already think is happening.)

What a marvelous miracle of Intelligent Planning that all of us are different! That means there’s plenty of space and options for everyone.

Some of us live in the same town for generations; others may pick up and settle in another part of the world, never to return. History is full of stories of families sailing far away for a new life, a Different Spot. All of us in America, aside from the Native Americans, originally had family from “Some Other Spot.” It’s fine to find Other Spots. Sometimes God forces us to Another Spot, which looks like a Wretched Spot but later becomes a Most Beloved Spot.

There are millions–even billions–of Good Spots.

My current house hasn’t been my favorite, but it has grown on me—even the too-small kitchen—and I find myself melancholy about listing it for sale soon. I’ve always thought this was the best view I could hope for. As I type I frequently gaze out the windows to These Spots, and sigh in delight.

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But Those Spots will soon be memory, replaced by Spots Like These, the new paths I get to explore:

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And I had to admit Tuesday, that’s not so bad a Spot.

Some year, it might even become my new Best Spot.

It was that realization that the world was so vast, yet only a tiny fraction of it was populated and fought over, that struck the Shins as so tragic. None of the violence in the world had to happen. There was plenty for everyone. But no one wanted to leave what they knew.

~Book 6, coming Spring 2017