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.”

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.

Image result for man in crowd not heil hitler

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!)