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.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is always hope and options; bizarrely, we don’t seem to want them.

I’m astounded at the level of ignorance people numbly accept. Never have we lived in an age with so much knowledge and data so easily accessible, yet we want very little of it.

For hundreds of years–no, for thousands of years, education was the coveted goal of nearly all people. To learn to read? Have access to a scroll? Learn beyond the basic numbers? Luxury! Some families would sacrifice all they had just to send one promising child to get an education, hoping he’d bring some of it back to share.

Now, we want only entertainment and sensationalism.
Give us crying teenagers terrified by exaggerated claims of global collapse.
Give us elderly politicians screaming about non-existent cover-ups.
Give us celebrities and journalists telling us how we’re all stupid and wrong.
But don’t give us reports of real suffering where we can help, or solid data about the actual changes in the world.

And certainly don’t give us any hope.

The high schoolers I teach are convinced the world is a horrible place to be. They want no part of it, nor do they want grow old in it. Unsurprising, many are depressed and without hope.

Decades ago I visited Washington DC for the first time and got lost in a less-desirable part of town. The person I was driving with told me to lock the car doors, that the people who lived there were “willfully dumb and dangerous.” I thought that was harsh, and said so. The person pointed out that those under-educated lived within walking distance of the greatest museums in the world, all for free. They could learn anything and discover everything, if they just exerted some effort. But they wouldn’t.

They didn’t want to know.

That was before phones and the Internet, before we could carry the world’s knowledge in our back pocket.

And still we don’t want to know.

We willingly accept only the shallowest of knowledge, and we limply accept the worst of fates. Our youth feel powerless, their only option to whine and throw tantrums at the world. They fight problems that don’t even exist, while ignoring larger issues that truly threaten to swallow them up. They’ve been given hopelessness, and actually believe it. They’ve given up their imaginations, so they can’t imagine better options. There’s little rebellion against the angst they’re handed; they just pocket it and skulk away.

I teach my students a Holocaust memoir, hoping they’ll realize that the hopelessness Gerda Weissman Klein faced was far more real than any manufactured issue-of-the-day, and not only did she survive, but thrived, just like hundreds of thousands of others, and millions of people all over the world today.

We have to flood not only the Internet but the minds of our families, friends, and youth we associate with hope, success, and optimism.

We have to tell them how many times the world was going to “end” over the past so many decades (my husband’s yearbook from the 1980s warned about the impending ice age, and how to survive it). And how none of those predictions have come true. None.

Our kids don’t know this, that we’ve been shaking our heads, rolling our eyes, and sighing heavily for fifty years at these sensational predictions. They don’t know that hope always exists all around them, and that a glorious future still awaits them.

We have to tell them! In our conversations, in our interactions, and in our social media. We have so many options and possibilities for our future, and bizarrely those options are frequently ignored.

Our laziness and easiness will destroy us long before the earth will collapse. That’s one prediction I hope I’m wrong about.

Walls meme horizontal People stupid

 

Remaining in the background when things aren’t right isn’t right at all (Sneak peek into the prequel)

 

“You’re disappointed in me,” Pere concluded. “Well, it won’t be the last time, I’m sure. Being a commander, or even an adult, doesn’t mean we know always what’s right. We have to trust the nudges to do what we believe is right. And I think as long as you try to do the right thing, it will eventually turn out. It’s when you stop caring or don’t want to get involved and let anything happen—that’s when everything crumbles. General Stumpy was lazy and selfish. He allowed for all kinds of injustices and cruelty to flourish. The only example I have to follow is his; whatever he would do, I try to do the opposite. It’s all I’ve got.” ~The Walls in the Middle of Idumea

Too often I’ve publicly offended others who have come after me online–publicly and privately. And because I’m extremely non-confrontational (oh, how I wish I were like Mahrree!) I retreat, and decide to hide in the corner of my closet where I can never say or do anything stupid ever again.

Obviously I’ve not done well with self-banishment, because I’m still here. (Each self-imposed exile lasts no more than three days, because I can’t keep still.)

Lately, though, I’ve realized that retreat is selfish, feeling sorry for myself when I’m “picked on” is childish, and lurking in the background when things just aren’t right isn’t right at all. 

Someone has to say something; someone has to gently, kindly, firmly even stand up and say, “No. I cannot agree to this and will not submit to that.” Maybe because it’s the stories my parents told me of growing up in Nazi Germany are haunting me again, or it’s the examples of bullying and name-calling in the holocaust novel I teach my 10th graders, but increasingly I’m seeing the need for us to stand firm in our beliefs, to let people know what we think, and, if nothing more, demonstrate for others that we will not be intimidated.

Recently on a group discussion online I saw a woman relay something that happened in her church that alarmed her. She immediately wrote, “Not to say that this is wrong . . .” And honestly, I don’t know what she said after that because I HAD to write: “No, this IS wrong, and we shouldn’t be afraid to stand up and say so!”

Immediately I worried that I might offend, but I thought, No–I shouldn’t be afraid, either! Within minutes the response to my comment was overwhelming–in the affirmative. Comment after comment said the same thing, citing scriptures to back up what incorrect thing had been allowed to happen in the church, and the original woman who posted finally chimed in, after 50 responses with, “Thank you! I thought this was wrong, but I just wasn’t sure and I didn’t dare say anything. But now I will.”

It’s when we stop speaking out, stop standing up, and worry too much about offending the perpetually offended, that’s when it will all fall apart. 

It may still all crumble someday, but not because we didn’t say something about it. 

But I don’t think so. I think there will always remain pockets of strength that will withstand the oncoming anger (and, I beginning to suspect more and more, a future civil war) because we will be standing strong together.

New prequel is now available! Click on the image below to get it on Amazon, or read it here.

Walls BOOK RELEASE1

Optimism, Gratitude, and Grit can together defeat fear

One of my favorite writings assignments I give my 10th graders is the “Optimism, Gratitude, and Grit” write-up. We’re reading a holocaust memoir, and we talk about the qualities the survivors had in common:
1) the ability to maintain hope and optimism;
2) a feeling of gratitude, no matter the circumstances; and
3) grit and perseverance to never give up.
I then read out loud the chapters in All But My Life detailing the Death March to Volary, Czechoslovakia, and have my students mark the novel with sticky notes whenever they encounter someone demonstrating those traits. Then they type up the lines and label each with what trait it demonstrates.

I tell them later that this was practice for their upcoming research papers, reading a text for specific details.

But I really hope it’s practice for life. They can endure nearly any trial and succeed in nearly any endeavor if they’re hopeful, grateful, and gritty. I have them take online quizzes evaluating their current levels, and explain that each of these traits can be learned and improved.

I love hearing the quiet rustles of paper as they mark another part of the text as I read, love seeing their lists and their labels, and I silently pray, “Let this leak into their brains! They’re going to need it all!”

In many parts of the country, teenagers and college students are becoming fearful snowflakes who melt at the slightest breath of trouble.

Most of my downeast Mainer kids, however, I think are a little tougher. They’re more like snowballs–packed firm and ready to fly.

Some of my students have shrugged at the book, claiming they can’t get into it because they “can’t relate.” I sincerely hope that they never do, but I worry that someday they will, too much.

And it’s then that I pray they’ll remember to always have hope, always be grateful, and never, ever give up. (That’s a much better lesson to remember than how to write a research paper.)

fear and success

Get the Forest at the Edge series here.

You can’t manipulate the educated, which is why they don’t want us educated

The entire reason for my attending a class as a grad student was to argue with the professor. She was on one side politically, I was on the other. I respected the woman immensely, but daggum, did she know how to push my buttons every week! It was like she was TRYING to make me angry!

Realizing that I was monopolizing each class by pointing out how she was wrong and debating with her for the next hour,  I shut up after the third meeting. Someone else needed to take her on, but strangely no one did.

She pulled me aside after that class and said, “What are you doing to me?! Look at the other students–they’re terrified and complacent. None of them  will ever make a peep. Don’t you realize that I pick subjects I know will rile you up? Come on! Show the rest of the class how it’s done! It’s you and me carrying this class!” Once I realized she was intentionally setting me up, the class was VERY entertaining. I remember thinking, “This is what universities are supposed to be about: an informed debate of ideas.” We rarely came to a consensus, but always realized just how close we were on so many issues.

That was 25 years ago. Ancient history. The world’s not like that anymore, sadly. Debate is stifled and opposing ideas are quashed in the name of “safety” for our fragile feelings. (

I told my college experience to my high school students this week. We’ve been talking about propaganda and logical fallacies, and I presented the quote from the most famous propagandist, Joseph Goebbels:

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it . . . It thus becomes vitally important . . . to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie.”

I was pleased to see that my students were intrigued that people could debate issues and still be friends without agreeing. My professor years ago wrote me glowing letters of recommendation when I graduated, even though we disagreed on nearly everything. We respected each other and I am still grateful to her for making me analyze everything I believed.

But today there’s no more debate, no more respect for different ideas, no more desire to discover knowledge for ourselves. If someone disagrees with us, we cut off all discourse and cry “oppression!”

We’ve stopped thinking and asking and debating, which makes us very vulnerable to those who want to do the thinking for us.  In the end, the elite will repress us. It’s happened too many times before.cant manipulate the educated

Get Book 3, The Mansions of Idumea, downloaded for free.

 

Quit protesting and start doing; it’s not the government’s job but ours

This week in school I taught about the rescuers during the Holocaust and WWII. (We’re reading a Holocaust memoir and I like to give my students historical context.)

We learned about Irena Sendler, who smuggled out 2,500 babies and children from the Warsaw Ghetto, and about Oskar Schindler whose list preserved the lives of 1,200 Jews.

And about Sir Nicholas Winton, who arranged for 669 children to leave Czechoslovakia for new lives in England as the Nazis closed in on Prague.

And about Gail Halvorsen, the Candy Bomber, who started a movement to bring chocolate and gum to the Germans being starved by the Soviets in Berlin in 1948.

Each of these people did something similar: They saw a problem and they INDIVIDUALLY took action. They realized that–all on their own–they could provide relief.

None of them said, “The government really should . . .” because in most of these cases, it was the government CAUSING the problems.

None of them protested or chanted slogans: they went to work instead. The same thing happen in the Civil Rights movement: yes, there were protests, but there were also many individuals taking action on their own to begin with. For example, Rosa Parks set so much in motion by deciding she was no longer going to give up her bus seat.

Also this week my 11-year-old brought home a national publication teaching elementary students about current events. As I helped her answer the questions, she could feel me bristling when I read, “There are many solutions to the problem. First, the government should . . .” My daughter got a lesson she wasn’t expecting: I spouted off for ten minutes on how the government shouldn’t do anything. It was established to keep America safe–and that was ALL it was established to do–so that everyone else could get to the business of solving each others problems.

But it seems we prefer to have someone force what we want for us, instead of doing the work ourselves.

Governments have NEVER solved problems; only individuals have. So what suffering can you alleviate, what wrong can you right, and what work can you do today? Go!

whose responsibility

Get Book 4 and the rest of the series here.

“I’m not good enough.” “No, you’re not. But there’s no one else to do it.”

When the incomparable composer John Williams was shown a cut of “Schindler’s List,” and Steven Spielberg asked to him to compose the score, Williams was so moved that he humbly said, “You need a better composer.” To which Spielberg replied, “I know, but they’re all dead.” Spielberg himself had put off directing the movie for ten years, and tried to get other directors to take it on, partly because he felt inadequate to do the story justice.

I shared this with my students today. We’ve been reading a holocaust memoir, All But My Life, and I told them about rescuers: ordinary people like Oskar Schindler who felt they had to step up and do something more for the Jews. Over the next couple of weeks we’ll look at short videos about Sir Nicholas Winton, Irena Sendler, and Gail Halvorsen–the candy bomber during the Berlin Airlift. Ok, so he’s slightly after the holocaust and was helping the Germans, but he’s still a great example of someone saying, “Isn’t there something more I can do?”

As I’ve read interviews with these and other rescuers, I’ve picked up on a common concern they each expressed: “But who am I? I’m nothing special. I’m not good enough.” Spielberg and Williams felt the same way, and I certainly do, on a daily basis, I’m sorry to report.

There’s a constant battle in my head. Maybe you’ve got the same in yours: “I’m not smart or good enough to [insert daunting project]. Surely there’s someone better to do this?”

Then there’s another voice that says, often quite unhelpfully, “No, you’re not good enough. But there’s no one else to do it.”

As I explained to my students that we rarely feel up to the tasks before us, I realized that I was giving myself a pep talk.  Daily I realize that I’m not a good enough mother and wife, or a good enough teacher, or a good enough friend, or a good enough Christian, or a good enough writer.

But apparently it doesn’t matter that we don’t know how to help, or fix, or resolve every problem placed before us–still we have to try. We can’t just walk away, we can’t just ignore, and we can’t hope that someone else will step in and take over, because usually no one else will.

Realizing this, we take a deep breath and keep going, flailing as we do and coming up short far too often, but knowing that someone has to do something. And it has to be us.

if I don't do this who will

They can keep changing the rules, but we don’t have to be obedient. (Plus 3 sneak peeks into Book 8)

My 6-year-old tried to play chess with me at their school’s STEM night last week. I didn’t realize he knew the rules, and it turns out he doesn’t, because he produced a secret weapon: a 6-legged spider he’d made out of clay in his class earlier.

“This is spider-guy,” he announced. “And he can eat all of your little white guys there.”

Before I knew it, the clay creature had wiped a handful of my “white guys” off the board.20180501_182939.
So that’s how this was going to be played.

“Fine,” I said, and looked around for my secret weapon. “This is Stapler Man, and he can chomp your spider-guy.”

“Good job, Mom!” he cheered as I nudged his spider off the board, but then he plunked spider-guy back into play. “But my guy has 175 lives.”

“I see,” I said, and if he was going to change all the rules every minute, like a game of Calvin Ball in Calvin and Hobbes, so could I. “Stapler Man has 180 lives, and he’s coming after your king.”

My son sighed and said, “You can’t change the rules like that, Mom.”

“But you just did.”

He hesitated, seeing that if he turned things unfairly to his advantage, I might too. (Yeah, I’m that kind of mom.) “Let’s go see the salmon babies,” he said, and the game was over as we headed to the fish tanks.

In my sophomore English classes we’re reading All But My Life, about a 15-year-old Jewish girl who is forced into the Nazi labor camps and is one of the few who survives. Last week we read about the ever-changing rules in regards to Jews; they can’t own phones, or cars, or bikes, or even fountain pens. They have to turn over the gold, their goods, their houses. Signs go up: “Gardens only for Germans,” and “No dogs or Jews allowed.”

The rules change daily, to the advantage of the Nazis, but the Jews aren’t able to play that game back at them or they’re shot.

My students, while fascinated by the story, have asked why this “history” book is in our English curriculum. We talk about language—euphemisms, propaganda, etc.—but the class is also about thinking and analyzing.

So I’ll tell them, “This memoir isn’t only about history, but about language, about control, about the direction we’re going right now. How are you going to survive in a country where the rules are changing daily?”

We all see this—it’s no secret: the elite, in various organizations, are manipulating situations to fit what they want to have happen. It’s not about the good of the country, but the selfishness of a handful. The rest of us struggle to know if we can shift those rules again, or somehow subvert them.

In the book we’re reading, Gerda Weissmann begins to learn English on the sly, and even though she’s denied an education, her father teachers her out of the textbooks they still own in the privacy of their house. (Proving that homeschooling is for subversives.)

My parents grew up in Nazi Germany. Their families–not Jews and certainly not Nazis—realized early on Hitler was going to be disastrous for Germany. Quietly, privately, they tried to subvert the changing rules the elite imposed upon them. They had more chickens than allotted and hid them when the inspectors came; they had doctors write notes excusing their children from attending Hitler Youth; they traded cigarette and coffee rations (Mormons don’t use those) on the black market for more flour and sugar; and my great-grandfather blackmailed a Nazi recruiter who tried to secure his money for their cause. The Nazis never bothered him again.

In the Book of Mormon is a story about a group of followers of God who are oppressed by their government (Mosiah 24). They’re told they can’t pray or they’ll be executed. The people simply didn’t pray out loud, but in secret, knowing that God would still hear them. Quiet subversiveness when the rules are purposely stacked against them.

It seems almost daily that the rules are changing, that more and more laws are purposely designed to hold down one group while elevating another.

Unfair? Absolutely.

But the question is, how do we respond—individually and collectively—to the oppressive elite?

Maybe a situation is benign enough that we can pull out our own “stapler guy” and change the rules once again for more even odds.

Or maybe a problem is so grave that our defiance equates our death—politically, mentally, spiritually, or literally. That’s a much more difficult situation to manage.

But there seem to be many opportunities for outward obedience yet inward rebellion.
However, there should never, ever be quiet acceptance.

Because if we don’t even try to fight, then we’ve already given up and they win.

(Because I’m so eager to get you Book 8 “The Last Day” this summer, I’m giving you THREE sneak peeks!)

#1 Sneak Peek

“Oh yes, General.” Young Pere squinted with disdain. “That makes me want to call you ‘father.’ Hit me all you want, Thorne, but you can never change who I am or what you are. So choose the slagging canyon yourself.”

From the corner of his eye, Young Pere could see Hili beaming. But Thorne stood shocked, not used to such flagrant insubordination, and evidently didn’t know how to proceed.

Finally Thorne whispered, in as sinister a voice as he could muster, “I have one more thing to do with you, Shin. Then I will kill you myself. Nothing will give me greater pleasure. Your days are numbered, make no mistake about that!”

Young Pere nodded once, not at all intimidated. Thorne was full of unmet promises; just ask anyone he’d told he’d give a medal. He still owed Young Pere a few.

#2 Sneak Peek

Shin frowned at Sergeant Beaved. “So I’m supposed to go along with all of this?” 

“If you want to live, yes!”

“Is that what all of you do?” Shin exclaimed. “Just go along with whatever unbelievable and unlikely story preserves you for another day?”

“Yes,” Beaved said shortly. “Why not?”

“Living in lies? That doesn’t bother you?”

Beaved leaned in. “What bothers me is the idea of dying, Shin.”

“Doesn’t bother me,” he said, almost believably.

“Look, Shin, just . . .” Beaved groaned quietly. “I don’t know what the truth is myself, but I do know this: you have a chance to survive this. A small chance, getting smaller each time you open that big mouth of yours. But if I were you I’d cling to that chance, do whatever it takes to preserve your life. You can fix the lies later, if necessary, but you can’t if you’re dead.”

#3 Sneak Peek

“I’m as helpful as I know to be, Teach,” Shin said down to the man following him on the slope of the mountain.

“But one could be more helpful, Shin. Considering that Thorne has repeatedly threatened one of your security detail if you fail.”

Below him, Cloud Man bounced his head, oblivious that Thorne had threatened to bounce the vial head down the mountain if the private wouldn’t be more cooperative.

“Interesting,” Shin said as he searched for better footing. “Thorne’s so ‘noble’ as to force us to seek out Salem, and he’s so ‘noble’ that he’s also threatening one of his own soldier’s lives to do so. Perhaps I’m not that familiar with the definition of nobility. Enlighten me, Teach.”

He heard Teach moan below him again, maybe because of the question or because he was smacked by another tree branch. Hopefully both.

“Nobility. Doing that which the circumstances demand.”

“That’s it?”

“Language usage wasn’t my specialty in the university,” Teach admitted.

“What was your specialty?”

“I specialized in it all.”

Shin stifled a snort. “But not language usage?”

“Why bother? Everyone knows how to talk, don’t they?”

Shin reached for another scrubby brush. “So who decides ‘what circumstances demand’? When someone is acting in everyone’s best interests and not just out of his own selfishness?”

“Are you suggesting General Thorne is selfish?” Teach asked.

“Yes.”

The scoff behind him made Shin glance down.

Teach was aghast. “You actually admit that?”

“I said only what you’re thinking, Teach. What everyone on this hill is thinking but is too afraid to say.”