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

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.”

Don’t care what the world thinks: 7 steps in the pursuit of peace!

In a quest for a more peaceful existence (I really wish I could live in the world of Books 5 and 6 of my series), I’ve been eliminating that which causes undue stress. No, I’m not abandoning my house or nine children, but I’ve been thinking about my dad, how he was the most calm, pleasant, peaceful man I knew.

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My dad, Rudy Strebel, in 2007, holding a granddaughter.

Not that his life was easy—he suffered as a child in WWII Germany, then had a wife he dearly loved but who had frequent and violent bouts with PTSD from her traumatic life as a refugee. In their 50+ years of marriage, I never knew him to lose his temper with her but did his best to soothe her paranoia and terror, every time. And I can count on three fingers the amount of time he slightly raised his voice at me.

He chose to be peaceful, and he was also very careful as to what he let into his life. He didn’t read, watch, or listen to anything that could harm his spirit or drag him down.

He wasn’t ignorant of the world, but he purposely distanced himself  from it to remain unspotted as it splashed in filthy waters.

Lately I’ve been trying to pursue peace as he did, and have implemented ways to limit what weighs down my mind and soul. I’ve incorporated a number of minimalist ideas, and I’m finding greater calm in my life by doing the following:

  1. Unsubscribe! To those emails that entice you to see what’s on sale, what the latest thing is, what you “really don’t want to miss!”

Miss it anyway. Don’t be lured in, don’t be tricked into buying something simply because it’s a great deal, and don’t waste time reading what can’t elevate you. It’s all distracting, even just deleting it, having to swat it away like a pesky mosquito. Get rid of them altogether. I’ve been opening, scrolling down, and unsubscribing from dozens of emails–even from places where I still buy something once or twice a year–and my feeds are cleaner, sleeker, and calmer. All that remains now is that which is really important for me to consider.

2. Unfollow! Here’s an awesome feature on Facebook: stay friends, but stop seeing every little thing they do.

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I’ve realized that I care only about my family (we have a secret group just for us), and some neighbors and friends who consistently demonstrate insight and humor–qualities I value.

The other hundreds of “friends”? I’ve unfollowed them. I can always check on them every few months if I feel the need (if I remember who they are).

In the meantime, I’ve cut out a mind-cluttering stream of whining, bragging, complaining, and comparing. It’s been like leaving junior high all over again–sweet relief!

Now I have a feed of primarily funny, inspiring, and heartfelt posts.

Twitter, Instagram, all those others? I don’t even go there, but you can also pare those down significantly to refine your life.

3. Tune out! I quit listening to the radio years ago and felt my blood pressure in the car normalize instantly. We never watch TV news, I skim the newspaper for only important news, and I’ve quit following nearly every online news outlet.

The result? The world keeps on churning but I don’t have to swim in that muck. I know what’s going on, but I observe only from a distance. Getting angry over the world doesn’t fix it. Stepping away from it, however, allows me to continue raising my family with peace of mind.

4. Ignore trends! Years ago, I quit following trends in home décor, clothing, and etc. by eliminating magazines and TV shows that told me what I had was out of date. How much more I love my house and wardrobe now that I’m not worried what the world thinks of it! And I’ve saved a lot of money, too.

And no one, ever, has said anything about me not being trendy enough. It’s like no one really cares.

5. Don’t participate! Like my dad, I’ve chosen to not listen to music that degrades or is “hard.” I listen to soundtracks and trailer albums instead. I read only books that satisfy and uplift; one summer, I sent back nearly a dozen library books after their first chapters because they were smutty, suggestive, or crude. I don’t watch rated-R movies or anything excessively violent, vulgar, or profane. All of that introduces anger and angst to my soul, qualities I’m purposely ushering out.

Yes, it’s sometimes hard to find something current to watch or read, but there are also a lot of classics out there waiting to be discovered. I’m also taking up my dad’s habit to read more biographies of truly great people, and more doctrinal works that teach me deeper about the nature of God.

6. Choose kindness! This one can be tough, especially for me because I inherited my mother’s cynical mind and tongue (when she was well, she was acerbic and hilarious). My father, however, while full of dad-jokes (he invented them all), was also unfailingly kind, even to his end. He suffered from Alzheimer’s, but the staff at his assisted living center said that while many in his condition became angry or violent, my dad never did. It was as if his mind had been choosing for so long to be kind that it simply didn’t understand rudeness.

Kindness softens the soul, and when I’m kind to people, especially strangers, sweet peace comes. As an introvert, I don’t like talking to people and tend to be abrupt with strangers, especially when I’m checking out with my groceries. I need this t-shirt:

Introverts t-shirt

But I’m trying harder to smile genuinely, thank sincerely, and respond to their questions with more than two-word answers.

I’m also trying to consider everyone with a kinder heart, and a more generous attitude. Even just thinking kindly brings peace.

7. Be quiet! No, not “kindly shut up,” but I mean, take time to be quiet and disconnect. Yesterday it was 85 degrees, so I took my 5-year-old son to a splash pad. I watched him for 45 minutes racing the sprays and screaming when the water went up his nose. He dried off for ten minutes and we watched a front-loader moving dirt the whole time, seeing how much dirt he dropped as he drove.

It was “quiet” in that I wasn’t listening to music, or playing on my phone, nor was I even reading. I was simply enjoying the water splashing, the boy yelling (happily), and the truck moving dirt. Purely peaceful, purely disconnected from the bigger world. I could focus on the most important part of the world, right in front of me. 

I am finding greater quiet and calm in my life in a world that’s increasingly not, and I’m always looking for new strategies. What works for you? How do you eliminate the world and its nonsense, and find peace and serenity instead?

“We don’t care about what the world thinks of us, Young Pere. You know that. We left it behind and have never regretted it.”

Peto realized there were many pure men and women, but they couldn’t exist in the polluted world.

~ Book 6, Flight of the Wounded Falcon      

Two logical reasons why I bizarrely thank canning jars . . . and everything else

I didn’t realize until I was older that we had a weird tradition in our house. It was mandatory that when a canning jar popped, no matter what part of the house my mother was in, she’d shout, “Thank you!”

If she wasn’t home, that duty fell to me, and I didn’t always want to do it.

My mother, a refugee from Germany after WWII, learned how to can after she came to America. But she was always worried about sealing the jars properly, so she’d watch the jars, waiting for the lid to pop up indicating that it had sealed. Relieved, my mother would exclaim, “Oh, thank you!”

Over the years, it became a habit to thank each jar for sealing properly, and I grew up knowing that when the jars popped in the kitchen, “Thank you!” needed to be shouted. Otherwise, who knew what evil would transpire?

I thought the tradition was ridiculous, especially when I discovered that no one else did this.

When I was twelve, Mom pulled out a batch of pears, then went outside to pick strawberries. It was then that a cooling jar popped, and . . .  I was the only one to hear it.

I knew what was expected—that I should thank it, but how stupid was that? Thanking an inanimate object?

The house became very quiet and still, as if waiting for me to thank the jar for its kindness in sealing, but I wasn’t going to do it, not going to—

“Thank you,” I finally whispered, because the cosmos seemed to demand it.

Two more jars popped cheerfully after that, and I thanked each of them. Fortunately my mom came back into the house and asked urgently, “Did any pop?”

“Yes, and I thanked them,” I said sheepishly.

She thanked each of the jars herself anyway, just to be sure.

It wasn’t until about ten years later, when I tried canning for the first time, that I eagerly and worriedly watched for my first can of tomatoes to signal its sealing. When it did, I cried out, “Oh, thank you!”

And immediately I understood. And immediately I was hooked.

You see, I began to thank all kinds of things; our old vans when they start without spluttering (I frequently pat them on the dashboard, telling them what good vehicles they are); the driver’s side window of my minivan when it decides to go up when I push the button—especially when it starts raining; my printer when it communicates with my laptop and actually prints something; when the traffic light stays green for a second longer; when there’s a 2-for-1 sale on my favorite bagged salad—all of that gets an audible, “Thank you!”

Yes, even in the grocery store.

I’ve found myself saying “Thank you!” when:
my sons’ favorite t-shirts are on sale;
that 50% off coupon is still good at the fabric store;
the berries produce;
the bread rises;
I get to the pot just before it boils over; and
when the stain comes out in the laundry.

Because everything deserves thanks, animate or inanimate.

It’s contagious. My oldest daughter confessed that when she cans, she also calls out “Thank you!” each time a jar pops; another child thanks the scooter when it starts up; and the other day I heard my four-year-old thank his Legos for going together.

There are numerous studies showing the spiritual/psychological/emotional improvements when we count our blessings, but here are the reasons why I became hooked on thanking the world:

  • It immediately makes me happy. Think of every time you say thank you, or someone says it to you. There is always—always—a hint of a smile (or maybe a huge one, depending upon the situation).

I have yet to witness a sincere expression of thanks without accompanying happiness.

  • I feel in harmony with the world when I thank it, and that makes me peaceful. So what if it’s weird to thank the automatic door for opening; I do so anyway. It might not have opened, and that may have made me grumpy as I wrestled with doors, trying to leave the store.

But something kind and helpful happened for me, as it does every day, so I show gratitude. It does nothing for the item I thank, but it does ME a world of good: I see the world as a kind and helpful place, which in many,  many ways it still is.

I need to remind myself that there is peace, even during horrific times, or I’ll hide in my closet terrified of the world.

My mom told me once of fleeing the Soviets when they were taking over her hometown of Neisse (Nysa), now in Poland. She was a teenager, fleeing all alone to the west, and had only a sausage in her backpack for food. She found a mother and her child willing to shelter her for the night, and she shared her sausage with them. She thanked the woman for safety from the Soviets, and the woman thanked her for giving them something to eat when she had literally nothing left.

And for that evening, for them, the world was at peace. I don’t know about you, but I desperately want that kind of peace in a world growing more hostile. My mom always remembered that night fondly, when she realized that kindness still existed, and so did God.

Yvonne N Strebel 1

(My  mom, a few years later, in happier times in Munich.)

So really, it’s not so much thanking the world as an inanimate object, either; it’s thanking, in many different ways, the Creator of it all.

“Thank you,” Perrin said again to the forest, wondering if anyone was there to hear it.

Back behind a clump of pines, a man in white and gray mottled clothing nodded. “You’re welcome, sir. My pleasure and honor.” ~Book One: The Forest at the Edge of the World

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I hate guns, but there’s something I hate even more (A pacifist’s confession)

I hate guns.

They terrify me. They kill, indiscriminately, even in the hands of the most skilled and trained users.

I hate their shape, their noise, and the smell of the cleaning agents.

My neighborhood is filled with gun-lovers. Hunters, cops, concealed-weapon holders—I’m surrounded by them. I wish I knew who stored loaded handguns in their houses, because I wouldn’t let my kids play there. All of that frightens me, to no end.

Many of my extended family are gun-nuts. They own arsenals. They’re gunsmiths. Bullets are stockpiled as plentifully as toilet paper is stock piled in my house.

Even my husband owns guns. I require that they remain dismantled, and stored in various parts of the house, because I hate them.

There are far too many accidental shootings and deaths. I don’t want anyone to come running to my aid, wielding a firearm, because I fear they’d shoot an innocent bystander in my behalf.

I’ve never shot a gun, but all of my kids have. My son is in the military, and two of his brothers intend to follow him. I’ve handled our family guns a couple of times, only by wrapping an old towel around them. I distrust weapons of all kinds.

You may choose to be offended by this, but I also tend to distrust gun enthusiasts. Some strike me as insecure bullies, hiding behind their weapons in a childish display of bravado and strength. Look at me! Look at the size of my caliber! There’s definitely something Freudian, and something cowardly, about those who feel their many guns give them power.

I’m a bit of a pacifist, if you hadn’t noticed. I crave peace.

I’m struck by the calm countenances I see in those who eschew violence: Ghandi, the Dalai Lama, and many others who would rather take a hit rather than deliver one. My father, who taught me to hate guns, was the most peaceful man I ever knew.

Yet, there’s something that terrifies me even more than guns: those who want to disarm my family and neighbors, while still remaining armed themselves

I prefer “The Office’s” version of a Mexican standoff: no guns.

It’s the clichéd Mexican standoff: no one dares to drop their weapon, because it’ll leave them vulnerable. I have to confess, those are the scenes in movies I hate the most. I can’t see any peaceful resolution, and you just know someone’s gonna get hit, probably when they’re walking away.

It’s that hypocrisy that makes me nervous.

It’s the same hypocrisy that I see in the elite of America: those with the money and the power and the influence. Those who make laws and entertainment and products we don’t think we can live without.

Those who are trying, at all costs, to take away from us so that they can have more.

You know who I’m talking about, so I won’t name names, but here’s a brief rundown of what they do:

  • They push for Common Core in the public schools, while sending their children to private schools which don’t follow those standards.
  • They insist on sharing the wealth, but just not theirs, because they still maintain mansions, expensive cars, and designer clothing.
  • They cry about climate change, yet pick up their conservation awards via private jets and gas-guzzling SUVs.
  • They won’t carry guns, but their bodyguards do.
  • They want to disarm America, but not those in their circles of influence.

A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation. ~Adelai E. Stevensen

It’s the same pattern we’ve seen in history, time and time again. America may not have an aristocracy like there was in the French Revolution, but . . . No, wait. We do. They’re based in Hollywood and Washington, D.C.

How difficult it is to avoid having a special standard for oneself. ~C. S. Lewis

These are very dangerous, very powerful people. For many years I’ve tried to give them the benefit of the doubt. So often I’ve defended those who want more gun restriction and laws, not because I agree with their politics (I don’t, at all) but because I sincerely believe that peace can’t happen when so many options for violence surround us.

I thought the elite of America felt that way as well.

But they duped me.

A hypocrite despises those whom he deceives, but has no respect for himself. He would make a dupe of himself too, if he could. ~William Hazlitt

They’re not interested in peace, for everyone. They’re interested only in control, for themselves. You can’t achieve that control if those below you are afforded any power.

My very peaceful father grew up during WWII, in very violent Nazi Germany. His father, a civilian, went nowhere without his sidearm (contrary to popular memes, Hitler did not disarm all of Germany; only the Jews). My parents, both later citizens of America, frequently commented how naive Americans were, how overly trusting we are of those in power, and how little we understand of the horrors of a totalitarian regime.

“This is what politics is about, right? We help the people discover the threat to their security, then we provide them with a solution. Granted, we create the threat that sends them scurrying to us for help . . .” ~Book 4: The Falcon in the Barn

This is why, no matter how much I personally hate guns, I reluctantly, begrudgingly, miserably agree that taking away all of the guns out of the hands of the public will be more disastrous than the bouts of violence we have now.

“Politicians care only about two kinds of people: those who bring them wealth and power, and those who threaten to take it away.” ~Book 3: The Mansions of Idumea

politicians and power

To the elite of America, I promise that this lowly, inconsequential, middle-aged mother of nine who will never willingly touch a firearm will, once again, support your calls for increased gun legislation and even disarmament, on one condition:

Put down your guns first.

But we all know that’s not going to happen.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll do what I usually do during a scene of a Mexican standoff: run to my bedroom and hide in the closet until it’s all over.

I’ll likely be there for a very long time.

(~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti, is now available at Amazon and Smashwords and here)

Why didn’t you do anything to stop him?

“Why didn’t you do anything to stop him?”

That’s what people frequently asked my father. He immigrated to America in the 1950s, and had a subtle yet clear German accent.  “Why didn’t you stop Hitler when you noticed he was ruining everything? He completely changed Germany, and you did nothing about it!”

My dad would answer, calmly and rationally (even though some of those who asked were hardly calm or rational in their verbal attacks). “First, I was born in 1931, so I wasn’t too influential in the politics of the 1930s and 1940s. Second, what could we have done?”

That question has weighed heavily on my mind these past few years as I’ve watched facets of our government morph into something I don’t recognize as America anymore.

Now, this is NOT an Obama-is-Hitler post. But the questions asked of my father have been clanking around in my mind for some time now. “Why aren’t we doing something?”

I won’t go into details of what worries me in our government (except to whine that the ironically named Affordable Care Act isn’t affordable, doesn’t care, and is completely an act; and that the impending immigration reform via executive order [read: tyrannical mandate] would infuriate my immigrant parents who jumped through all kinds of hoops to come to America legally).

But I won’t be surprised when, in years from now, our children ask the same question: “Why didn’t you stop him when you noticed he was ruining everything? He completely changed America, and you did nothing about it!”

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Don’t worry; my baby girl wasn’t traumatized for too long.

Now I freely admit that not everything about Obama is bad. No one is wholly evil (even Darth Vader had a few soft spots).

Personally, we have benefited immensely from the Income Based Repayment program for student loan payments, signed into law by Obama in 2009. Without that, we’d be living in a cardboard box right now, while a huge chunk of our income went to pay off our student loans. I’m grateful for this program and pray that it lasts.

My father, too, was grateful for the Autobahn and Volkswagen, initiatives of Hitler to help the common man. And in many ways, Hitler was a man of morality. He never smoked or drank alcohol, and instituted a “Fast day” where citizens fasted for a meal and were encouraged to give the food they didn’t eat to the poor. Hitler increased education, reduced unemployment, rebuilt Germany’s infrastructure, and—contrary to popular belief and internet memes—relaxed Germany’s gun laws so that more citizens could be armed and even purchase guns at younger ages (the Jews, however, he disarmed, unsurprisingly).

In 2004, my dad was asked to speak to the fourth graders at a local school, and he told them that, “Hitler was a very convincing and inspiring speaker, and he could convert many of his listeners to his ideologies.  . . . Depression, unemployment, and poverty were rampant, and he wanted to turn things around.” And he did.

And that’s when Germans decided he wasn’t such a bad chap . . . until things started to shift.

And that’s when it was too late. Germany was becoming a country unrecognizable to its citizens. Within just twelve years, he changed everything, while Germans stared in disbelief wondering what just happened.

I worry that it’s happening here, too. The Constitution was established to keep our borders safe so that citizens could live their lives as their consciences dictated. But we’ve been drifting away from that for some time now, and considering historically that no republic has lasted intact longer than 200 years, I suppose it’s time for us to implode. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote, “The American Republic will endure until the day Congress discovers that it can bribe the public with the public’s money.”

I’m definitely no politician, primarily because I feel my heart rate increase, along with my blood pressure, when I read what’s changing in our country. How the Constitution is disregarded. How the Supreme Court overreaches. How states’ wishes and votes are overturned by judges not even in their states. And how the president can do just about anything he wishes through an executive order, while Congress bickers and does nothing.

When Ronald Reagan said, “The scariest sentence in the English language is, ‘I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,’” he was prophetic.

It is the duty of the patriot to protect his country from its government.
~Thomas Paine

My father told the fourth graders: “At Hitler’s rallies the masses shouted, ‘Leader, command; we follow you!’ With this shout, Germans surrendered their reasoning power and forgot to think for themselves. Later we found out that actors with loud voices were interspersed in the crowd, and at the right moments they shouted this cry and the crowd repeated it.”

Are we all just going along with the crowd as well? Because a few well-placed voices are shouting that it’s ok to follow blindly, to let Common Core decide our children’s education, or that the wife of the president can declare how many calories my kids eat at lunch?

I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by the gradual and silent encroachment of those in power, than by violent and sudden usurpation.
~President James Madison

We have no excuse for doing nothing about the abridgement of freedoms we’re experiencing. Again, from my dad: “How was it that Hitler had such tight control over the whole nation? The answer lies with the Gestapo, or State Secret Police. Midnight visitors might show up and take that person in ‘protective custody,’ and they wound up in a nearby concentration camp. Smart people knew how to keep silent.”

We’re smart people (perhaps) and we don’t have to keep silent. We don’t have a Gestapo (but we do have an IRS, which Tea Party members would be happy to tell you about).

The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people; it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government — lest it come to dominate our lives and interests.
~Patrick Henry

But we do have social media, we have forums, we have ways to complain and protest—many more than we had in the 1960s when they really knew how to protest—yet nothing’s improving. Political parties squabble uselessly, and we citizens suffer for it. Those who hold religious and moral values are increasingly persecuted for not embracing behaviors we deem against the will of God. And despite our public protests on social media, we’re losing.

If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin.
~Samuel Adams

So how do we do prevent our country’s ruin? What would Samuel Adams do? Thomas Jefferson? I’m sincerely asking for ideas.

I also ask this since I can’t ask my father, who’s still alive at age 83, but whose mind is gone because of Alzheimer’s. Back when George Bush declared war on Iraq, Dad wrote a letter to the editor of his local newspaper stating his concerns about the action, and also wrote to the White House. He was proud of the response he received from Washington, and that his letter was published in the paper, but was discouraged that we still went to war. Twice.

Repeatedly he told me as I was growing up that we had to speak up when we thought something wasn’t right in our country. “We didn’t have that possibility in Germany, but we do in America.”

He was so proud to be an American citizen. He served in the Army, always voted, wrote many letters to politicians, and had the phone numbers for Oren Hatch’s office and the White House on his phone list. And he called them!

dad confused

Dad, and his classic, “Oh, brother . . .” look of dismay.

Later, he amended his answer when people asked him why he didn’t do anything about Hitler. “I was a child in WWII, but as an adult I make sure my opinion is heard. I became an American citizen because I love this country and believe in the pursuit of freedom for everyone. What are YOU doing to make sure this country remains free?” 

Strange as this sounds, I’m glad Dad’s awareness and memory is impaired. He’d be dismayed to see how we’ve strayed from the Constitution he dutifully studied. He’d be wringing his hands in worry that history was repeating itself, trusting a man who thought much more of himself than he should, and took upon him much more power than was ever intended.

Most of all, I still hear him saying, “Why didn’t you do anything to stop him?”

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.
~Abraham Lincoln

People tend to trust whoever sets themselves up as the authorities, but at some point each person needs to look at what’s claimed and test it. Is the sunset really pink, or is it more of an orange? What do you see?

Did the government deserve her trust? They acted as if they already had it, Mahrree thought cynically. As if they could just take it, not earn it. And no one was questioning that, were they? They collect our trust as easily as they collect our taxes. We wanted them to succeed so we trust them blindly. Foolishly. And they’re using that. If people stop arguing, stop thinking, and are just willing to take—to trust—whatever the authority dishes out, they’ll accept just about anything— 
~The Forest at the Edge of the World (book 1)

 

“She knew that in a very real way, she controlled the world. At least, she controlled the way her students would see it.”

“That’s right, sweety—that’s a dog. Doggies are bad. They will always bite you, even if they look nice. Keep walking . . .”

That was the conversation I overheard between a mom and her three-year-old daughter yesterday. I was pushing my son in a stroller past them, and glanced over at the evil beast behind a massive fence.
It was a small, fluffy mixed breed dog, panting happily, not snapping at all.

Not that I’m a huge fan of dogs—I tolerate them, at best—but I worry when an adult passes along their fears, irrational or not, to their children.

I cringed, but the damage had been done.
The child shuddered obediently and gripped her mother’s hand as they rushed home. The girl had been indoctrinated.

The thing is, we all indoctrinate our children, in good ways and bad.
I’ve heard some adults argue that “religious nuts” brainwash their kids into believing in their faith, but it’s still propaganda when adults persuade children to not believe in anything at all.

As parents we literally present the world to our children—a view which they then spend the rest of their lives believing or disproving, or talking to a therapist about.
A difficult question then is, What view of the world have I given to my children?

My mother was a classic case of paranoia run amok. Suffering in Germany as a child during WWII, losing her parents, her grandmother, and several cousins to the war, seeing some of her family interred in concentration camps, then escaping from her home (now a part of Poland) to the west by herself as a 16-year-old, just one day ahead of the invading Russians, is going to leave some scars.

Unfortunately, she refused to have those scars looked at, insisting every time we tried to get her treatment for her Post Traumatic Stress Disorder that she had things under control.
She didn’t.
She feared the world. She was afraid of people in uniforms (she hated the Boy Scouts—just like Hitler Youth, she claimed), people in stores (you never know why they’re looking at you), and people just chatting in the halls at church (she knew they were gossiping about her). Every person was a potential threat to her happiness, as it were.

Sometimes she was fine, going for months being cheerful and even joining in the conversations with other women in our neighborhood.
Then suddenly something would snap again—we never knew what the trigger was—and for many months and even years she was sure everyone hated her for her German accent, and that someone was coming to get her.

All of that rubs off on a kid, and even though I learned to distance myself from her delusions and paranoia as a teenager, I still feel my chest tighten when I see a group of women and I think I’m supposed to talk to them.
But rhetoric courses I took in college demonstrated how each person views the world in a different way and, most importantly, those views can change.

In my mom’s later years, her paranoia blossomed—one of the lesser-common side effects of Parkinson’s disease is hallucinations. And she did them magnificently.

My 40th birthday will always be memorable because she called to wish me a happy birthday, then said, “Well, your father’s all but out of the family now since I discovered he’s been having affairs.” The man was 78 at the time. My mom also complained about the listening devices in the house, the person living in the attic demanding sugar, and the horrible statue garden my brother and his wife had put up in the backyard.

My older sister called me two hours later to say, “I just had Mom committed to the mental hospital to stabilize her. How’s that for a birthday present?”

Now, four years later, my mother barely knows where she is or who she is. As her life slips away, I mourn for her that she never fully knew just how wonderful it could be. The world held her hostage since she was a little girl. She never knew how to change her view of the world, nor did she fully realize that for the past sixty-plus years she had a very easy life. All she could focus on was her fear.

That’s why I cringed when I heard that mother yesterday telling her daughter to be afraid of dogs. Undoubtedly she’s had some trauma in her past that she never got over, but to pass those fears on to someone innocent?
To taint an entire collection of creatures with just one ugly color because of a bias?
To assume that we as adults truly know how everything is, and that we’re completely correct in all our assumptions?

I don’t know whether to call that prejudice, or arrogance, or ignorance.
Whatever it is, it needs to be resolved to give our kids a fair and fighting chance.
And that’s probably the toughest thing for a parent to do.