Give him a hug for me.

When my father called to tell me that we had lost my little brother Brian in an accidental drowning one fateful day just before his fifth birthday, I was devastated. All alone, I went to my parents’ house and sat in my brother’s bedroom and cried at the loss, and through my pain and tears I pleaded with my God to give my brother a hug for me.  My wife and I then jumped in the car and sped to Colorado to be with the rest of my family.

Many of us siblings had similar thoughts. My mother recounted how she had asked God how it was that He could take what she referred to as her happy boy. Brian had always been this – happy, a friend to all. She told us that she received an answer there on that lonely river bank; she was confident that she had heard in that reply, “Because I missed him too”.

Sometimes God communicates with us directly, as He did with my Mother that day, but often His word reaches us by other means. For me, it has often been through music. There are a few pieces of music that I cannot sing without a catch in my voice as emotion overwhelms me. A chord, a phrase, some unique and special thing that bursts into my soul like frozen fire. Dazzling in its brilliance and overpowering in its intimacy. One such piece is the tender and haunting “Mary’s Lullaby” from Wanda West Palmer.

Set as if Mary were singing to her newborn son – the Son – it describes Mary’s feelings and thoughts as though she had a clear vision of her boy’s future and she desires, desperately, to shield Him from that awful fate if only for that one night as she says,

Away spectored future of sorrow and plight, Away to the years that must follow tonight. The pangs of Gethsemane, let them be dim. The red drops of Calvary, not Lord, for him! Oh let me enfold thee, my baby, tonight, While legions are singing in joyous delight. A new star has risen to hail thee divine,

For you are a King. But tonight you are mine.”

If I make it through the line about Calvary, the next line will undo me anyway. Mary’s plea to the Father’s own Son, “Oh let me enfold thee, my baby, tonight…” is the perfect  complement to my own request that the Lord Himself pass on my hug to my lost brother in that Mary pleads for a moment to embrace Him in the Father’s stead.

These are but two simple examples that help me to begin to comprehend the depth of God’s love for each and every one of us. How must He weep and His great heart must break when one of us loses our way. Though we may get lost in the turmoil and noise of our hectic lives, we must never forget that He is there. He knows us intimately and He knows our pains individually.

Another song that I can never finish without interference from emotion is “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need”. As this piece ends, the words are,

O may Thy house be my abode,
And all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest,
While others go and come;
No more a stranger, nor a guest,
But like a child at home.”

He wants us to come home. I’m sure that He misses us.

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The twisting of fate–in my father’s words.

Shortly after my wedding some 30 odd years, seven children, and 8 grandchildren ago, my family faced one our darkest moments when, while on a family trip, we lost my younger brother Brian. What follows here is my father’s recollections of that day.  I’ll have more of my own thoughts to add later.

In a seldom-accessed portion of the sheriff’s evidence room in Aspen, Colorado there is probably still a nearly forgotten evidence box containing one small sneaker. It has long since dried from when it was pulled from the waters of the Crystal River. Long gone are the inquiring reporters who tried to talk to anyone who would tell them something about what happened. Long gone is the solitary white camp trailer with the red stripe parked in the campground near the river. Perhaps still reverberating far out in space with ever decreasing amplitudes are the television and radio broadcasts that were beamed around the world showing the scene with the investigators, the would be rescuers, and the silent watchers. Thanks to the thoughtfulness of a sheriff’s deputy, not identified in those broadcasts were the grieving family members watching and waiting. They were just a few of the crowd of onlookers. In one of the police cruisers was a wet and grieving boy suffering from shock. Not there to be filmed was the big gray GMC van that was traveling the 50 some miles to bring the news to me. Brian was gone, swept away by those swift and swirling waters. No chance to bring him back. No chance to back up and do it right. No chance to say goodbye… All that was found of Brian was that small sneaker. But, Scott was OK. It could have been two… It could have been two!

That time twist brought me to face the memories of the events the night before and earlier that morning.

We had driven to Snowmass, Colorado, towing that trailer with the van. The van was packed with 11 of our 12 children. Chelsea was just 10 months old. Only Mark was absent. He was married and had much more important things to do than bum around the country with a gaggle of kids; his day would come for that. The occasion was a business trip concatenated with a family vacation. The family was to relax while I worked for five days. Friday afternoon we would be on the road to visit my sister JoAnn in Indiana.

We stopped long enough in Snowmass to check me into my room where the conference would be held. Then it was off to get the family settled into a forest service campground. The one we chose was on the banks of the Crystal River, some 50 miles away, up a different canyon and adjacent to some red rock cliffs. As we slowed to turn into the access road, Scott excitedly pointed to a group of large rocks at the edge of the swiftly running river and shouted: “That one’s mine!”

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Our camp was situated at the edge of a meadow full of deep grass and tall wild flowers. The river was a comfortable distance to the south of us, and the red rock cliffs were about 4 times that distance to the north. It was a beautiful site with pines, spruce, and lots of quaking aspen. We spent the rest of the day getting settled and preparing dinner. Mixed among the chores were frolics in the meadow, excursions into the trees, and discussions of the rules of safety. There was even a trip across a service road and down to the water’s edge to stress the dangers that were there. Directly across the river, near the highway, were those commanding rocks. Everyone received a buddy assignment and was told they were always to go together, but never to the river.

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After dinner we had a little birthday party for Brian. It was the last day of July 1983. Brian’s birthday was on the third of August (it was to be his 5th), but I would be away at work in Snowmass. After some tender hugs, settling the kids down for the night, and family prayer, Linda drove me to my hotel room. Adeena was left to watch the kids. As Linda left me I felt unusually lonely. I had spent many lonely nights in hotel rooms, and would spend many more in the years to come, but this night was the loneliest and darkest of them all. There are not words to express how dark things seemed and how sad and apprehensive I felt. As I prepared for bed these feelings became a great burden. I longed to be with my family and felt that the mountain was a great barrier between us. Why hadn’t I stayed there all night and been driven over early in the morning? Of course it was logical to spend the night at the hotel. I could get up and get ready for my meetings without disrupting or disturbing anyone. without disrupting or disturbing anyone.. Besides it would be better to leave the young ones when they were asleep instead of in the morning when they might be up and about.. Of course Adeena was there and could handle it, but it was just more logical this way. As the dark and lonely feeling persisted, I prayed once, then twice, then more. I eventually dropped . to an uneasy sleep

The next morning I was up and ready for my meeting early. The dark feelings of the night before were put aside as I got on with the day’s business. About midmorning I was sitting at a conference table with my back to the hallway facing a window that looked out on those barrier mountains. As my mind drifted from the presentation, I gazed longingly at those mountains and wished to be beyond them. Then an overwhelming feeling swept over me. I felt distressed to be where I was and not with my family. It wasn’t the return of the dark feeling of the night before, but a melancholy and longing. But what could I do? They were beyond the barrier, and I would be here for 4 more days. I thought of abandoning the meetings, but I had no way to get there and no way to contact them.and handle it

More than an hour later, Adeena was calling to me from the hallway. Although her news was devastating, it was not a complete surprise. Now I knew what those feelings were about. The events of the previous 12 hours had been attempting to prepare me for it. I numbly excused myself from the meeting and accompanied Adeena out to the van. Most of the kids were in it. Adeena told me Brian had fallen into the river from those rocks and Scott (his buddy) had gone in to save him. Both were swept away before Scott could get to Brian. They both were pulled under but Scott was able to grab some roots near the bank and pull himself out. He scrambled up the bank to flag down passing cars, but by then Brian was gone. The buddies left camp after breakfast saying they were going to the red rock cliffs. Once out of sight, they turned from the cliffs to the bridge and down along the roadside to those rocks. After jumping from the bank to the rocks and playing for a while, they attempted to return to the bank. Scott made it, but Brian did not. He was in a little side stream but could not make it up the bank. When he lost his footing, the current took over.

As I approached the van and opened the door, I paused and gazed once more at those mountain barriers and the cloudy sky above. After a long pause for a silent prayer, it was clear to my mind that Brian would not be found. He was where he belonged; all was well with him. I announced to Adeena and the rest of the kids that Brian was gone, and quietly sobbed those 50 some miles around those barrier mountains, and back to the red rock campground on the Crystal River. As we drove up the canyon along the Crystal River, there were people standing and watching at every bridge or promontory along the river. They were volunteers positioned to spot any sign of Brian. Others were walking the riverbanks or probing the pools and rapids. One of them eventually found the sneaker.

When we reached the riverbank where those rocks remained, gone were the news people and most of the spectators. A sheriff’s deputy summed up the situation and told us what to expect over the next day or so. We were to go to a local mortician to make arrangements in case Brian’s body was found. He gave us a little history of the river, and said quite often no body is recovered. So it was with Brian.

We spent the rest of the afternoon making phone calls to those who should be notified. A lodge up the river made their phone available to us. We spent that night in the campground. Just before bedtime, we gathered around the campfire and all but Ronna Lin (but that’s another story) recalled all the good times and fun experiences we had with Brian. Then we said goodbye to him and told him we loved and missed him. Early the next morning I was restless and got up to walk along the riverbank. I visited those rocks and tried to visualize what happened. To this day I have a vision of Brian being swept away and crying for help. If only I could have been there….. If only. But NO! That was not to be! He could have been saved, he could have been prevented, but he was not. Brian was to go. Hard as it is to experience, there can be no resentment, no rebellion, and no loss of faith. There can be no grief that saps away strength and resolve; that deters and diverts. There can be no blame, retribution, or rancor. After all, it could have been two. Eleven and a wife remain.

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I continued down the road along the river past the straight section of choppy rapids until the river broke over and around some very large boulders and cascaded into a series of swirling pools. It was there that Brian’s little body could have been trapped, wedged in a crevice, never to be dislodged by the probing poles and divers. It was there that I determined to say a father’s farewell. Words could not express my feelings of loss and love, nor my intentions to live worthy to be called the father of such a son.

That day was spent in minutia. We met with the mortician, contacted the sheriff’s office for a status report, left a copy of our travel route to Indiana (in case they needed to contact us), broke camp, and moved into my hotel room. It was a cool and rainy day. The next day we loaded up and prepared to hit the road. Breakfast was typical of the many we had on the road with lots a little kids. We went to a market, bought some bulk items, and drove to a large parking lot to eat. While we were there Mark and Dana drove up. They had traveled all night, had looked everywhere for us, and had found us in a last chance effort. About an hour later we headed over the mountains on our way to Warsaw, Indiana. When we finally returned home, my aunt Jean told us that the night that Brian died she saw her sister (my mother who had died 27 years earlier) in a dream. She was walking along holding the hand of a little blonde boy. She had no idea what it could have meant until she heard the news the next day.

Life with Brian had been a continual delight. He was full of life, love, and brightness. His ample shock of thick blonde hair was always bouncing in or out of some great adventure. He started talking in sentences very early in his second year, and he endeared himself to us all with his silly and profound statements. He clearly felt close to his Father in Heaven. He was just fun to have around. Linda participated in a neighborhood Joy School with Brian and treasured his enthusiasm and personal joy. He was a very happy boy. Then there were the Suzuki violin lessons. His tucka-tucka-tuckas resounded through the house and our lives. When he wasn’t playing them, he was singing them. Brian became very close to his closest siblings, Lori Jo and Adam. Lori told us that for many months Brian would come to visit her at night. He told her he was happy and doing well. Oh how he is missed! Often over the years we individually or in groups wonder what he would be doing now or what wonders we have missed. He would have left on a mission this year (1997). We all consider Brian to be a highly favored one who was called on a special mission years before most.

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Utah Republican Caucus: My Experience

Drudge Report has a headline story up about one Utahan’s claims about the caucus process where he voted. I can assure you that nothing similar happened where I voted.

The process was simple. Upon entry, I was asked to present a valid ID along with my confirmed 2016 Utah Republican Party Caucus Pre-Registration issued by the party. I then was asked to initial the corresponding line with my name and registration details on the printed registration book.

I was then handed a card – signed by the precinct secretary – and asked to print my name on it and keep it in front of me at all times throughout the meeting.

After local party nominations and voting for officers and delegates to the county and state conventions, a single ballot for Republican Candidates for President was place on the table for each validly signed card authorized to vote in person (If you had registered online for the caucus and indicated that you would be voting online, there was  red mark on the card indicating that you were not eligible to submit a ballot in person).

Once I had marked the ballot for the candidate of my choice, I was to place the completed ballot in a box and the signed card in another box.

One person. One vote.

Maybe they do things differently elsewhere, but I am inclined to call shenanigans on the original claimant.

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The End of SkyMall?

So, SkyMall is filing for Bankruptcy. I do hope something of them survives; how else will I entertain myself on long flights? We always have made a game of searching for the most ridiculous product or claim. Need a tanning bed just for the pale feet of your favorite woman golfer (heaven forbid she be made to go out with those pale feet)?  There was even a robotic window cleaning gizmo so versatile that it would work with glass of any thickness! And where am I to go for my genuine, replica Harry Potter wand?!

 

They will  be missed.

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In Response to Ed Decker

I was fascinated to read Ed Decker’s post on The Great Mormon Paradigm Shift and while my first reaction was simple bewilderment at how anyone could get so many things wrong, I have since given it a more patient analysis. Still, much of what he has written is strangely out of touch with reality, but I recognize that some of his conclusions are obviously colored by his hope that they are right mixed with some valid criticism.

Let’s start with the statement that Mormons are ‘sliding…into religious, social liberalism.” While it is true that some of the style has changed over the years, I’ve not seen any change in substance. The presentation style may be different from what was common in the late 19th and early 20th century, but the core Gospel principles have not changed. I see this, from an insider’s perspective to be in line with Thomas Jefferson’s advice that “in matters of style, swim with the current; in matters of principle, stand like a rock”. Much of the perception of change has more to do with misunderstandings of the original position of the Church than it does with changing the fundamentals. In this, I am glad that the latter tone seems to have caught people’s attention and brought them to a better understanding, which is perceive as a change.

Jumping right into the fire, the “curse” pronounced upon Cain’s posterity, was a temporary denial of priesthood; it was always understood that this would one day be lifted. Never was it claimed that there were any people sent to this earth who would not be eligible for Eternal Life in the Kingdom of God except through their own personal rejection of Christ. True enough, many LDS had assumed that this would not change until Christ’s return, but that was always speculation. That the “curse” was lifted in our lifetimes is a source of joy for the vast majority of church members.  As for this line, “Now the god of Mormonism has forgiven them and they, too can become gods.  I wonder of their skin turns white when they become gods?” Who cares what color their skin does, or does not, turn? God’s promise is that in the resurrection, we will all be raised in our most perfect and glorious form – as God Himself created us. So, I guess that’s up to Him and I will not presume to second guess Him on that.

Membership growth and activity rates: Ed claims that “It is no secret that they have been losing members as fast as they are bringing them in through the missionary program.  Fewer people, fewer tithes.”

In a more thorough evaluation of the current growth of  the LDS church, it has to be acknowledged that the rate of convert baptisms has slowed and that activity rates among current members is not at its peak either (http://www.cumorah.com/index.php?target=church_growth_articles&story_id=8), but it is a gross exaggeration to claim that membership is declining. True activity rates and the numbers of ‘free riders’ has always been, and continues to be a concern and that will always be the case where humans are involved.

Somewhere out there, there probably are parents who don’t “want their kids to go through the pressures associated with being out there ringing door bells”, but they are hardly the majority nor do they represent the trend. Even a cursory look at the number of new missionaries (male and female) currently serving would show the opposite trend. The Church has opened missionary training centers in many countries and expanded existing facilities to address the demand (http://www.lds.org/locations/missionary-training-centers?lang=eng).

“Now they are all for gay marriage…” In a word, no. The LDS Church is opposed to efforts to normalize same sex unions as marriages. The stance of the Church is, and has always been, that temptation is not the same as sin. Being tempted to participate in sinful activity is not the same as committing that sin. The standard is the same for all – gay, straight, solo, or other – no sexual activity outside of a valid marriage and even then, within the bounds that the Lord has set. Read carefully: in order to maintain full fellowship and privileges in the Church, before marriage, none at all.

There are members within the Church who deviate from this belief and some openly join marches and other forms of advocacy. They are entitled to their opinion, but do not speak for the Church.

As for the B.S.A. controversy, I agree with the official statement of the Church on this matter. If you follow the standards explained above, then the issue of gay youth as scouts is moot. It is my opinion that some who are so exercised over this policy find them selves in this position because they abandoned the moral high ground on chastity long ago. Having surrendered on the point of pre-marital sex among their straight kids, this is the only tie to God’s law left to hold onto to.

Those “careful interview[s]" still happen. To me, a celibate gay is as worthy as a repentant adulterer or dry alcoholic. As the bumper sticker so eloquently put it “Don’t condemn me because I sin differently than you.” …[A]ll have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…”

On abortion: the Church’s position is that there are cases in which it is permissible, but that they are incredibly rare. To save the life of the mother is clearly one of those cases where an exception to the general rule is allowed to be considered. In the Doctrine and Covenants Section 59:6, the Lord restated a few of the weightier commandments thusly, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. Thou shalt not steal; neither commit adultery, nor kill, nor do anything like unto it.” It is into this ‘anything like it’ that I believe abortion falls. Scripture clearly states that murder, in which an innocent life is taken, cannot be forgiven in this life nor likely in the life to come, but that’s not my call. Abortion falls just short of that. In a practical application, a person having previously had an abortion is then introduced to Christ and wishes to join the Church, can receive baptism with the appropriate ecclesiastical clearance, or a member having one can be forgiven after the necessary process of repentance and return to full fellowship; one who has committed murder cannot.  Perhaps an illustration is in order as to my understanding of the exceptions to my natural revulsion to the idea of abortion.

A friend of mine was having respiratory problems and after several consultations, it was determined that she had lung cancer. She was in her late thirties and a mother of 8. When they took a closer look, it became clear that she would not survive this – and that she was pregnant. The therapies that would prolong her life would certainly end the pregnancy. Without these same treatments, she would likely not live long enough to bring a viable newborn into this world.  After much prayer and deliberation, the family decided that terminating the pregnancy and aggressively combatting the cancer would give my friend a chance to live long enough to see her oldest daughter graduate from high school. She died a few days after that graduation and just 5 months after the original diagnosis. I believe that in this case, there was no other rational option.

It is highly unlikely that my under 25 year old children would not find any of the doctrines that Ed hints at, but does not define, surprising or even unknown.

The R rating standard is still the recommended beginning for a personal standard in seeking entertainment, but it is not a dogmatic rule and does not excuse one for participating in offensive PG-13, PG, or even G rated fare. With many things, once the principle is understood, the rule is irrelevant.

Is there room for improvement in the LDS community? Most assuredly, but the changes that I hope to see are probably not the ones that Ed expects nor the ones he thinks he has found. And yes, the LDS Church “is still the same underneath”, the restored Gospel of Jesus Christ. As an insider, I see much of what is perceived as changes in doctrine as an expansion of what I said in the previous paragraph. As a people learn the Principles of Salvation and are able to choose rightly, then higher principles are revealed. Christ did not abolish the Law nor say that we no longer need to follow the 10 Commandments, He simply explained the reasons behind them and asked us to apply them more broadly. We are expected to do more.

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