Actions & Consequences

“Society teaches our children that the consequence of their actions is that there are no consequences to their actions.”

When living in a civil society, there is one undeniable fact—actions have consequences. Good actions often times result in good consequences. And understandably, bad actions will more times than not, result in a bad consequence.

It’s a principle my wife and I have taught our children from the time they were old enough to understand. Good actions = good consequences. Bad actions = bad consequences. It is also a principle I was taught. I remember having a curfew as a teenager. As long as I kept the curfew, my life was unfettered, and I continued life as normal. I remember a time I broke curfew. I knew the rule. I knew I broke the rule. I still remember my Mom informing me that as a consequence, I would be grounded for a period of time. I didn’t like the consequence, but I knew the risk because I knew the rule and the associated consequence that came with breaking the rule.

As I started raising my own children, I remember clearly when one of my children first participated on a soccer team. The team wasn’t very good, but my child had a fun time running, kicking, and, well, goofing off while on the team. After the six-game season, my child’s team had only won a couple games.

At the conclusion of the season, I was surprised to see my child receive a trophy. Not a first-place trophy. Not a second-place trophy. In fact, it was the same trophy all the children received, regardless of how well their team actually did in that short season.

As I participated in sports as a child, I remember very clearly being on good teams and bad teams. For many years I proudly stored the first-, and second-, and third-place trophies/awards I received. My team and I earned them. The trophies were a consequence of doing well. I also remember many years where I never received an award…the consequence of not doing well.

As my child was awarded a trophy after the soccer season, I couldn’t help but wonder what society was teaching my child. Everyone received the same consequence even though the actions varied greatly from one team to another. No wonder the younger generation is often referred to as the “trophy generation.”

When I approached the public recreation services group about the trophy, and asked why my child—and every participating child—received a trophy, the staff member warmly, and with a smile stated, “We don’t want any kids to feel bad if they didn’t do very well. So, everyone gets a trophy. That way they can feel good about their experience.” Her tone tried to coax from me a “what a wonderful thing to do” response from me.

That was not my response and she looked surprised when my non-verbal facial expressions said everything I was thinking—Are you crazy? Are you stupid? That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.

All actions have consequences | Sutori

Fast forward many years to where my child attended junior high school and high school. Most every day I would inquire, “How is school going? Are you staying caught up? Did you do well on your test?”

I was always frustrated when I received the answers to my questions…

Q: Are you staying caught up?
A: For the most part, but it really doesn’t matter if I turn in my work late or not. It doesn’t affect my grade.

Q: Did you do well on your test?
A: No, but it doesn’t really matter because I can take it again as many times as I want before my final grade.

My kids would comment on how old I am when I’d reply by saying, “When I was a kid…”

I’d share with them that when I was in school 100 years ago, if your assignment was late, I received a zero. If I did poorly on a test, you got bad grades. My poor action of being late or not studying sufficiently had a consequence of poor grades and more difficulty getting into college.

Society teaches our children that the consequence of their actions is that there are no consequences to their actions. Turn in work late? Do poorly on a test? The consequence is extended time to complete the assignment, and a chance to retake a test over and over until the desired grade was achieved.

These are but two scenarios—an athletic experience and school experience. There are plenty more. What are the results when children are taught unrealistic consequences of their actions? I argue we are starting to see exactly what those results are.

I see the movements against so-called social injustices. Professional athletes and many others protesting the National flag and anthem, protesting police shootings, and demanding societal reformation.

I will stand shoulder to shoulder in a fight against true inequality and unfair practices. I firmly agree with the words of Declaration of Independence as it states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

The truth, however, is that law enforcement is not the problem. Those who say it is are misguided and are incompetent.

Protestors claim that black people are unfairly treated by police officers. I stress that I never want to see anyone shot and killed. I pray this will never happen, but I also understand the situation law enforcement faces when they must decide whether or not to deploy potentially lethal force.

Protesting police shooting is placing the emphasis in the wrong place. Police shootings are a consequence of an action. People protest a consequence because society has taught us that consequences do not have a correlation to action. Play well and win = a trophy. Play poorly and loose = a trophy. Turn homework in late = no penalty. Turn homework in on time = no advantage. Society has removed consequences from action.

Police shootings are not the problem; breaking the law is the problem. But in a society that is taught that consequences are not attached to action, people scream that REGARDLESS of the action, the consequence should not be attached to it.

Protesting police shootings is protesting that crime should not have consequences. I shouldn’t be shot by police if I break the law, resist arrest, and brandish a weapon. That is what protestors are saying when they protest law enforcement. The truth is, if protestors want police shootings to stop, they should be protesting the actions of criminal behavior that have a consequence of police shootings.

This is not a popular viewpoint. Of course it’s not. It makes me a racist and and lacking empathy.

As a parent, I like when my child is happy and gets a trophy, even if they don’t deserve it. We have created a generation void of the principle of consequences of our actions. You do good, you reap good. You do bad, you reap good. That is what society teaches as truth. Society has created the monster. And now, society is reaping the consequences of its teaching.

My oldest child has now enrolled at the local university. Her first semester of classes could be considered very difficult. As she reviewed her courses with me, I reminded her that she was no longer in junior high school or high school. She no longer was part of a team where everyone received the same reward for doing well or not doing well. I told her college professors won’t care if her work is late or if she did poorly on a test. I reminded her of the importance of staying on track with her work and to study hard for every test. She is a smart kid, and her mother and I have taught her well. She understands life is not all rainbows and unicorns, that if she wants to succeed, she will need to earn it. She understands if she wants a successful consequence, her actions will need to reflect such and that nothing will just be given her because she participated.

But what about all the other children whose parents haven’t taught them this? What does society teach and what are the results of those teachings? All I can say is God help us and our society.

 

 

For Love of Friends or Myself

“What do you think we should do?” asked my Dad. “I want to go to Disneyland,” I proclaimed.

 

For months all I could think of was Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Pluto; fast rides, lots of candy, and the magical fireworks to come. That was the mindset of this nine-year-old boy looking forward to my first trip to Disneyland, a trip I first learned about at Christmas time.

That’s right, the big old jolly one himself spread the news of the trip at Christmas to me and my sisters, using his trusted elves…my parents. Our family bought big beach towels, shovels and pails, along with other fun beach paraphernalia for our trip, as we planned every detail. We were so excited and with every passing day, week, and month, the excitement built, and the anticipation almost overwhelming.

During this young time in my life, my Dad had been called to an ecclesiastical position, to oversee a geographical area of our neighborhood—a bishop in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. His responsibilities in this position was very taxing as he watched over and assisted in meeting any of the temporal and spiritual needs of all the people within the geographical boundary—roughly 500 people. This was a volunteer position that required 20-30 hours of work each week, all in addition to his full-time job and caring for his own young family. We all looked forward to the trip where we could spend time together without any outside interruptions.

On Friday, July 24, 1981 the clouds gathered, and rain began to fall as we packed the family Suburban from top to bottom, preparing for our travel the next day. Living in Utah, the second-driest state in the country, the rainy day during the hot summer month was a surprise. Accompanying the rain was a terrible thunder and lightning storm. But nothing could dampen my spirits—or so I thought.

Later in the day, my parents brought us all together in our living room. The living room was one of those rooms that we didn’t use very often, mostly for more formal visits. So being summoned to the living room was a sobering event in and of itself. As my sisters and I shuffled into the room, we quietly asked each other, “What was wrong?”

“There has been an accident,” my Dad explained. Our mood became even more somber as all eyes were glued on our parents. “Brother Carruth and his son were struck by lightning while out golfing today. Brother Carruth is in critical condition. Reed has died.”

There was a collective gasp by my older sisters. Reed, just 13 years old, was a schoolmate of theirs. The Carruth’s daughter, Amy, was my age, and I knew her well.

“How? Why? When?” came the questions. “We don’t know for sure, but we believe they ran under a nearby tree to escape the downpour of rain. The lightning then struck the tree they hid beneath,” my Dad continued.

We sat in shock. Nobody knew what to say.

“Their family will need a lot help,” my Dad continued.

Of course they would. Even in my young mind I could imagine the sadness they must have felt, as my own stomach felt uneasy, not knowing how to process this information. I had never known anyone personally that had died and it would be years before my great aunt would pass away in 1988.

“We have a choice to make,” continued my Dad. “We can get in the car and head on vacation like we’ve planned,” he said pausing for a moment. “Or we can cancel our trip and stay here to help their family.”

Cancel our trip? Was he serious? No Mickey! No Minnie! No rides! No beach! My immature adolescent mind started to spin. I looked around the room at the solemn faces. Nobody wanted to make that decision. Especially my Dad, who was torn between his responsibilities as a father and as a bishop.

“What do you think we should do?” asked my Dad to us kids. One by one each started to answer.

“I think we should stay here,” said my oldest sister. “Yeah, we should stay,” said another. Their greater maturity was evident as they more easily grasped the weight of the situation. Me on the other hand.

“I want to go to Disneyland,” I proclaimed.

Looking back, I can clearly see my selfishness and to this day I feel a sense of guilt that I ever thought about continuing the trip, not to mention having the audacity to voice that sentiment. Had I been older, I may have felt different—I hope I would have felt different.

We didn’t see Mickey that year, but did so many times after. Each visit has brought fun and excitement that lasted a brief moment. I don’t remember those visits too vividly, but I do remember that summer July day. I felt disappointed by the decision my family made that day, but the feeling was more than just disappointment. It was confusion. Never before could I remember such a turmoil—a battle between what I wanted and what was right—rage within me.

Now these many years later, with a lot more miles of experience and maturity, I can see this defining moment of my childhood more objectively. And it was just that—a character-building moment. Having experienced heartache more deeply now, I can more easily feel empathy for the Carruth family as they lost a son and brother. I can more fully appreciate how much pain and anguish they must have felt. I can also understand how as parents, my Mom and Dad must have felt a tug-o-war within themselves, trying to put their family first, while knowing that the right decision, wasn’t going to be the easy decision for us kids.

Why has this experience remained so engraved in my memory? It’s funny looking back at my childhood and identify what experiences I remember, and imagining all those I don’t. Why does this one remain? Perhaps it was a lesson I needed to learn at a young age, a lesson that would help shape who I became. It was a chance to learn empathy. It was a chance to learn putting the needs of others before my own desires. It was a chance for me to learn the importance of helping a friend in need. It was a chance for me to learn, as I’ve grown older, that priorities in life shift and the hardest decisions are those where there is good in either direction you choose to follow.

I imagine the sting of Reed’s death felt by the Carruth family has finally found the soothing balm of time and healing. As for me, when I look back and reflect on this memorable and impressionable experience, I find great gratitude that I have parents who taught me how to love and care for others, to put aside personal desires for the much more rewarding remunerations that come from selfless acts of love and kindness.

 

Musical Defiance

“I don’t want to listen to that music,” I insisted, but my descending vote fell on deaf ears.

So was the life of the only boy in a family of seven. Growing up with four sisters, and falling in line as the second to last, always prompted the question from those meeting me for the first time…

“The only boy, huh? I bet you were spoiled,” is an all-too-familiar inquiry I’ve encountered most of my life. “Yes, you are right,” I reply. “But not by my parents; I was spoiled by my four  sisters.”

Spoiled I was for sure.  I had a built-in cheerleading squad that cheered me on at every competition. I had four additional mothers who were ready to unleash the fury of a mamma bear whenever an unkind word was ever spoken in my behalf. And never did I ever date a girl that lived up to the measurements of my ever-protective sisters.

It wasn’t always that way though. The early years were fraught with the agonizing torture of having three sisters pin me down while the fourth would endlessly pull clumps of hair from my legs; and the ever so effeminate dress-up parties where I played the part of the little girl they put in a dress, applied make up, and curled my hair.

It’s no wonder that at a young age when family vacations were planned, I always begged and pleaded for the opportunity to bring a male friend along with me, a request that was often permitted.

Among the challenges of growing up with all sisters, I had a family that seemed to really enjoy the old-time twangy tunes of classical country music…especially my father. His favorite way to pass the time of a multiple-hour car ride was to turn on the greatest hits of Conway Twitty, George Jones, and the Gatlin Brothers. The rest of the family would sing along and I would suffer out loud with whining and general verbal displeasure, as the radio sang about a woman trying to hide behind her “Tight Fittin’ Jeans.”

On one such occasion, I remember very clearly the exercise of democratic practice, as my parents asked, “What should we listen to.” Quickly the answers filled the air as all the children voiced their particular favorites. Seeing the glimpse opening of hope, I joined in the revelry of musical suggestion.

I don’t remember what musical genre I unsuccessfully lobbied for, but I remember that I lost and before long, The Gatlin Brothers were singing about “All the Gold in California.” In protest, I placed both pointer fingers in either ear and pressed, all while trying to make my actions as obvious to all the other people in the car.

Song after song came and went, and my fingers remained firmly in place. Five minutes, 10 minutes, then 20 minutes went by. Everyone in the car engaged in a state of gaiety, singing each song, laughing and having a ball. Everyone, that is, except me.

By this time, I spent more effort trying to maintain my pose, not wanting anyone to see how laborious it had become trying to keep my fingers in both ears while acting with disdain. Another 15 minutes passed by… and now Dolly Parton was bemoaning the work life while singing “9 to 5.”

I then realized, that after all this time, nobody recognized—or maybe even more important—nobody even cared about the tantrum I subtly pursued. I removed one finger…and waited. Nothing. Nadda. No one noticed. I skillfully and slowly removed the second finger and quickly surveyed the rest of the car. Zilch. Zip. They all just kept singing along like nothing had happened. All that effort and angst. All those miles; song after song. The only person who suffered was me.

Now that I’m a parent, I’ve shared this story with my children on the many occasions each of them protest when they don’t get their own way and I teach them that in life it takes far more energy and exertion to worry about the small and insignificant things in life than its worth. Because in the end, nobody else cares, everything else matters, and we often times miss out on the great things around us while in the process.

Finding Joy

“Nobody makes us mad. We allow ourselves to become mad. Nobody makes us happy. We choose to be happy.”

One of the great joys being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is the opportunity to occasionally have the chance to speak in church. I did so last Sunday…

It’s a great day to be alive!

Many studies have shown that mindset is a very powerful influencer and plays a large part in our happiness or lack thereof. Having gratitude for what we have, allows our minds to feel peace and happiness, while greed and envy destroy our happiness and peace. Continually wanting more and focusing on what others have, or hoping they don’t find success, only fosters feelings of resentment, and displeasure with what we do have.

Most of us have tried walking or running on a treadmill. No matter how fast we run on a treadmill, we never move further than a few feet, always returning to where we started. Happiness can be similar. As human beings, we tend to quickly return to a state of relatively stable happiness even when we experience a significant event in our lives—whether positive or negative. This is referred to as the Hedonic Treadmill or Hedonic Adaptation.

In their 1978 study, authors Brickman and Campbell interviewed 22 lottery winners and 29 paraplegics. Their studies show the lottery winners level of happiness after winning, was roughly the same as it was before they won. Likewise, the paraplegics interviewed, showed their happiness levels had returned to a similar state experienced before their accident. Whether negative or positive, people will gradually revert back to the level of happiness, or unhappiness to which they choose.

In a recent conversation with a friend who had traveled to several countries in the African continent, he commented on how unbelievably poor the people are. He said, “They have nothing! Absolutely nothing at all. They don’t have homes to live in. They don’t even have clothes to wear or food to eat.”

After pausing briefly, his voice lowered almost to a whisper and he continued, “But I have never seen a happier people in all the world. They are so joyful; they are so full of love, and they are so full of peace.”

Five years ago, I suffered a tragic accident that left my hand mangled, broken in ten places and my pinky finger severed. After the initial surgery and treatment, I learned from other doctors that the procedures performed on my hand were completed incorrectly and left my hand with more significant damage. As a result, I had to endure four more surgeries over 12 months and engage in nine months of physical therapy. Medical bills and my frustrations, seemed to race to see which could grow the fastest.

One evening in a fit of frustration, I lashed out, cursing the situation and voiced how unfair it was that we had to pay so much in medical-care expenses. Jen sat patiently listening, understanding my emotional outbreak. After a few moments of silence, she softly spoke, “Well, you have two options; justifiably, you can choose to be frustrated, to hold ill feelings, and seek recompense. Or, you can be grateful.”

“Grateful? Are you serious,” I said. She continued, “Yes, you can be grateful that we have the means to pay for these medical bills. You can be grateful that you still have a fully functional hand. It’s your choice.”

We all choose how we respond to life. Each of us is in control of our response to any situation. Nobody makes us mad. We allow ourselves to become mad. Nobody makes us happy. We choose to be happy.

Nuisances are everywhere. In a world where we have so much, it is easy to get caught up in issues that pale in comparison to what blessings we do have.

Never before has humankind had so much to be grateful for. Hedonic adaption skews our views and can affect our happiness…if we choose to let it do so. It is our choice. Too many times, we are so busy with life we don’t recognize our great blessings.

My family and I recently visited one of the big amusements parks most people are familiar with.

We had spent a day walking 14 miles, quickly scurrying from one place to another, trying to take in all that the massive theme park had to offer. We waited in one long line after another, all for very short, almost insignificant, bursts of speed experienced on each of the different rides. The walking and the waiting tested everyone’s patience and stamina. By the end of the day, we were all tired, with aching feet and frazzled nerves. It is no wonder that when the fireworks show began, all we could think of was quickly getting to the next ride, while there were fewer people standing in line.

We hurried from one part of the park to another as we struggled to determine the GPS’s directions. With each wrong turn we felt greater pressure to move quickly before the fireworks show ended.

With Jen at the lead, and Piper and Hailey right behind her, I made sure from the back that Jack and Isabelle kept up with the group. At that moment, I stopped.

“Everyone just stop and wait for a minute!” I said firmly.

They all looked at me, wondering what I was doing.

“Now, look up!” I continued.

Everyone looked up at the amazing fireworks as they lit up the sky with immense colors and booming explosions. It was a spectacular background to the beautiful fairytale castle and starlit sky.

Our children gazed at the spectacle, some with their mouths wide open, others commenting on how beautiful it was.

“Wow, that is so incredible,” one said. “Those are the best fireworks I’ve ever seen,” another added.

I found great joy watching their reactions, more than I did in actually watching the show. Their faces said it all, this was a wonderful and memorable experience and they were taking it all in.

At that moment, I was reminded of when I was a young missionary, my wonderful mission president used to always say to me, “Elder Savage, you need to realize that this life is a journey, not a destination. You need to stop and smell the roses along the way or you’ll miss out on life’s greatest joys.”

As my family scurried to and from one ride to another, it was that moment we stopped that I realized, because we were so determined to make it to our destination, we were missing out on an opportunity to participate in a spectacular show and wondrous joyful experience. Instead of rushing to the next ride, we should stop and look up at the event right before us.

When we have struggles, it is easy to overlook the countless joys we experience daily. It is easy to focus only on the struggle. I do not in any way want to downplay any of life’s great struggles each of us has endured or continue to endure. These struggles are real and they are difficult. Sometimes, even when we want to choose joy, our struggles can make that very hard.

Elder Richard G. Scott has said, “Sadness, disappointment, and severe challenge are events in life, not life itself. I do not minimize how hard some of these events are. They can extend over a long period of time, but they should not be allowed to become the confining center of everything you do.

He continued, “[You experience joy] as you obey the commandments, have faith in the Master, and do the things that are necessary to have joy here on earth. Your joy in life depends upon your trust in Heavenly Father and His holy Son, and your conviction that their plan of happiness truly can bring you joy.”

In one of my most favorite addresses, Elder Holland expressed, in his talk titled, Like a Broken Vessel, “Above all, never lose faith in your Father in Heaven, who loves you more than you can comprehend. That love never changes. … It is there for you when you are sad or happy, discouraged or hopeful. God’s love is there for you whether or not you feel you deserve [it]. It is simply always there.”

There is so much good in the world that we can become so preoccupied with the good that we don’t allow ourselves time for what’s best.

As we seek for joy in this life, we need not look further than the great counsel given to us by President Dallin H. Oaks:

“As we consider various choices, we should remember that it is not enough that something is good. Other choices are better, and still others are best.”

We often times fill our lives with so much good, that we neglect the best things that can envelope our lives in joy and happiness. Moments of fun are fleeting, but joy and happiness bring us lasting peace and comfort.

I am a list person. I love making lists of items I need to do. I put the most important items at the top of the list, working to accomplish those items first. Temple attendance, helping a neighbor, spending time with my family, and other BEST items, unfortunately often times fall down my daily list of Things to Do, because I focus too much on the good items on my list and not the best items. To find joy, we need to focus on what’s BEST in life.

As we seek for joy, we never need look further than to our Savior Jesus Christ and His plan of happiness. Our Savior has taken upon himself all of the pains, sorrows, sins, and infirmities of this world. Everything we experience in this crucible called life, He too has experienced. He is the reason we have joy. He loves us…you and me. And He stands ready to help us find joy. After all, Adam DID fall that we might come to earth, and we ARE to have joy while we are here learning and growing.

It is my prayer, that as we all seek to find joy in this life, that we will understand that the free agency God has blessed us with, allows us to choose to have joy and happiness.

I pray that we will stop and smell the roses of life and appreciate what God has so abundantly blessed us with. That as we struggle, we might keep an eternal perspective, recognizing that trials are part of our mortal experience, and that if we will look to the great healer, even Jesus Christ, who stands ready to help us, who is the only one that can fully understand every pain and sorrow and struggle, we will find peace and joy and happiness.

I testify that God lives and loves us. I know President Russell M. Nelson is God’s true and living prophet on earth today. Joseph Smith did in fact, see God the father and His son Jesus Christ, and was called to restore the true Church to this earth. The Book of Mormon is true. I so testify, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Stop and Smell the Roses

“Everyone just stop and wait for a minute!” I implored.

My wife looked at me, wondering what I was doing.

“Now, look up!” I continued.

Everyone looked up at the amazing fireworks as they lit up the sky with immense colors and booming explosions. It was a beautiful background to the beautiful fairytale castle and starlit sky.

Our children were gazing at the spectacle, some with their mouths wide open, others commenting on how beautiful it was.

“Wow, that is so incredible,” one said. “Those are the best fireworks I’ve ever seen,” another added.

I found great joy watching their reactions, more than I did in actually watching one firework explosion after another. Their faces said it all, this was a wonderful and memorable experience and they were taking it all in.

Fireworks

We had spent that day walking 14 miles, quickly scurrying from one place to another, trying to take in all that the massive theme park had to offer. One long line after another, all for a very short, almost insignificant, burst of speed experienced on each of the different rides. The walking and the waiting tested everyone’s patience and stamina. By the end of the day, we were all tired, with aching feet and frazzled nerves. It is no wonder that when the fireworks show began, all we could think of was quickly getting to the next ride, while there were fewer people standing in line.

We hurried from one part of the park to another as we struggled to determine the GPS’s directions. Turn left…wait a minute…that was wrong, we were supposed to go right! With each wrong turn we felt like the show might end at any time and so we felt even greater pressure to move quickly.

With Jen at the lead, and Piper and Hailey right behind her, I made sure from the back that Jack and Isabelle kept up with the group. It was then that I remembered what one of my greatest heroes and mentors told me when I was a young 23-year-old.

“You need to realize that this life is a journey, not a destination,” he would say to me. “You need to stop and smell the roses along the way or you’ll miss out on life’s greatest gifts.”

“Everyone just stop and wait for a minute!” I said.

It was that moment that I realized, because we were so determined to make it to our destination, we were missing out on an opportunity to participate in a spectacular show and wondrous experience. Instead of rushing to a ride (that ended up not being that great), we should stop and look up at the event flashing right before us.

One important lesson I try to instill in my children is to set high goals and work very hard to achieve them. But most important, don’t let the end goal be of such great importance that they miss out of the lessons and joys of working toward each goal. The value of goals isn’t just achieving the end result, it is overcoming, working hard, and learning along the way.

I’ve spent so much of my life, looking only to the future destinations—once I’m married, then I’ll…Once I’m finished with schooling, then I can…Once we are in a house, then I’ll be ready to…With my next job I’ll finally be able to…If I could just earn, $XXX, then…

Our past provides us lessons to learn from. Our future helps us prepare for what will be. But our present, oh our present…it must be lived in. Otherwise, we will never find happiness and peace, always seeking the next destination.

Steve vs. Mr. Stinky

“The smell saturated my nostrils. I could taste skunk. I started spitting, trying to get the taste out of my mouth.”

 

“We caught something, but not a rat,” my wife said to me shortly after I woke up.

“What?  What did we catch?” I asked thinking of all the possible worst-case outcomes. “Our cat?” I questioned, having had a history of catching our cat in our live Havaheart trap.

“Nope!” she replied. “We caught a skunk!”

For a minute I wasn’t quite sure what to say.

“A skunk! Are you serious? We caught a skunk. In the trap. In the barn?” I said not believing what I had heard.

Image result for skunk

“Yep, and Jack is so excited to shoot it when he gets home from school,” Jen continued.

I had promised Jack he could shoot the rat when we caught it, and now, he appeared all the more excited to try his marksmanship with the larger nuisance animal. At this time my oldest daughter joined the conversation.

“I had to feed the horses so I sneaked around in the barn so I wouldn’t disturb the skunk. It is sooooo cute!” she said.

“You know it is going to die, right?” I said emphatically, not wanting her to get any wild ideas about keeping a skunk as a pet. I didn’t want her to get all sympathetic and sad when the time came to dispose of Mr. Stinky.

I admitted to them both that I wasn’t sure how to handle a skunk. Yes, growing up in Smallville, USA, I had my run in with all sorts of critters…porcupines, rabbits, birds of every shape and size, snakes, even a bobcat. But the only experience I had with a skunk was when my dog would get tangled with one. Never had I experienced actually managing a skunk, not to mention a living, breathing and fully armed/scented skunk.

My daughter quickly Googled what to do with a skunk and there were hundreds of videos and comments.

The first of the oh-so-many mistakes I made during this experience, was thinking Google was sure to be right. “Hold a towel or blanket from head to toe, hiding your body, while walking to the caged animal. The skunk will not spray a target it cannot see,” Google informed me. “Place the towel or blanket over the cage. The skunk will remain happy and you can then pick up the covered cage and take the animal to the place you desire,” Google continued.

That sounds easy, I thought. I watched a couple videos and everything looked like it went well. So, when I got home from work that evening, I thought this would be a very simple. I drove my truck to the barn, dropped the tailgate, and grabbed my beach towel.

Slowly approaching the barn, the pungent smell still filled the air from the surprising spray my cat encountered the night before. This was the first time I saw the actual skunk. Standing 30 feet away, my heart strings tugged a bit as I agreed with my daughter…it was a cute little thing. A little fluffy, pointed nosed critter, with beautiful black and white markings, I admit I decided I couldn’t possibly kill this creature.

Standing there I decided, I would pick up the cage, drive it away from the neighborhood, and let the bugger go.

By this time, my son and his friends were curious, and all wanted a look at the skunk. One of their moms also let her curiosity get the better of her and she made her way out to the barn. With all the commotion, the skunk realized something was going on and his docile nature turned to more of a startled and anxious state.

Slowly I walked toward the skunk, covered head to toe with my towel. I got 10 feet from the skunk and thought, “This is going quite well. I can’t believe I’m this close to the thing and it hasn’t sprayed.” I took three more baby steps and started slowly lowering the towel to the cage.

Spraying number one.

The bugger turned its hind end toward me and let it rip. The smell was unbearable, and I threw the towel at the cage and quickly retreated.

The smell saturated my nostrils. I could taste skunk. I started spitting, trying to get the taste out of my mouth. Everyone was laughing, or rather, rolling on the ground in hysterics.

My patience was drawing thin. I ordered everyone out of the barn claiming they were scaring the skunk and making it want to spray me. My feelings of “oh, what a cute little animal,” dissipated while the smell that saturated me didn’t.

Looking for a solution, I brilliantly came up with a new plan. Pick up the cage with the towel, drop the whole thing in a large water tub, and see how well the thing could breathe under water. So, I slowly made my way back over to the covered cage. The towel now stained with a yellow/light green spray mark. I lifted the cage while holding my breath and then quickly made my way to the water tub.

I sat the cage on the tub, only to realize, the cage was an inch too big and wouldn’t fit. I retreated again and took a deep breath to refill my lungs. Standing there, I reassessed my situation. Looking at the cage, I then looked over at my truck. I then decided to try my first plan and went back to the cage, picked it up, and slowly headed to my truck.

Spray number two.

This second spraying was just as bad as the first. However, with my eyes watering and nostrils already burning from the first spray, this spray didn’t knock me over.

I placed the cage on the tailgate and headed down the road. I rolled all the windows down trying to catch my breath. I drove to the end of the street and planned to release the animal. I got out of the truck, and noticed the smell was stronger than ever. Apparently, the truck ride made the skunk upset and it sprayed again. I made my way around the back and slowly picked up the covered cage. I walked it a few feet away, by the side of the road, and then realized I didn’t know how to open the spring-loaded latch on the cage, hold it open, and wait for the animal to exit. I quickly found a bungee cord and hooked it on the cage door, and slowly opened the latch. I was almost home free. I was so impressed with myself. I raised the latch and stepped back, waiting for the skunk to leave. I waited. I waited longer. What was going on?

From my vantage point, I extended my arm as far as I could, while keeping the latch open, and I slowly crouched down to peer through the end of the cage. Nothing. I saw nothing.

I crouched further, almost lying on the ground. Nothing! The skunk was gone. I knew the skunk hadn’t left the trap. So where was it? I stood up. If the skunk wasn’t in the trap, and I know it was in the trap when put in on the truck. There was only one place it could be.

I walked around the back of the truck, just in time to see the skunk’s tail slowly disappear underneath my truck box, and to the side of a spare tire, lying under the truck box.

In my truck bed, I had a lot of stuff. A 30-hp outboard boat motor, strapped down, and standing up in the bed. I had three spare tires under my truck box, filling that small space almost completely (except the small nooks and crannies a skunk could fit in). I had paint cans, and other miscellaneous items. Everything stunk to high heaven.

Now I had a skunk, hiding in my truck and I had no way to get him out. The first step was to pull the spare tires out from underneath the truck box. So, I drove back home, a picked up a long stick.

I drove back down the road and slowly removed the spare tires. Now, as strategically as I possibly could, I tried shielding my body with the truck bed, and reached by arm over the top and ran the stick underneath the truck box. I poked. I prodded. And, I managed to pull him out from underneath.

I couldn’t see what I was doing, but using the stick, I felt the soft body of the varmint and I could hear him moving around. So, I peeked over the edge of the truck bed, and there he was, in all his glory.

Spraying number three! This time he got me and my truck good.

The vile and evil smell covered me from head to toe. It was unbearable and I started to dry heave. Cars were passing by and I’m sure they thought I’d lost my mind. I was bent over, on my knees, covered in skunk spray, and gagging uncontrollably.

As I regained my composure, I walked around the back of the truck again, and saw my disgusting counterpart crawl back under the truck box and placed himself so his hind end was pointing straight back, and his neck was cranked around so his vantage point was perfect to thwart any other attempt I made to dislodge him. With both his face and butt pointed toward me. I retreated back to the cab of my truck.

By this time, I was furious. I stunk to high hell. My truck reeked. And I was again driving back home, with a skunk in my trunk. No longer was I thinking about how to gently release this devil animal back into the wild. My once understanding demeanor had turned to rage. Being sprayed three times, I was no longer worried about smelling bad. All I wanted was to rid myself of this despicable demon.

I got home and grabbed my child’s pellet gun. I got back in my truck and headed down the road. Living in a suburb, I couldn’t just jump out and start shooting a gun, so I had to find an appropriate location. I drove from one location to the next, not knowing where perform the dirty deed. Twenty minutes later, I found myself on a dirt road, up a local canyon.

I jumped out and took aim. I was finally over.

The most surprising part of the whole ordeal was that when Mr. Stinky finally relinquished, there wasn’t any attempt to spray. Perhaps his stinker was empty by this time. Maybe, being covered from head to toe in skunk spray, I just couldn’t smell another attack.

I discarded the remains and got back in my truck. I drove home a little wiser that day and couldn’t help but laugh as I looked back at all the many mistakes I made over the course of three hours.

I drove directly to a car wash. As I started praying out the bed of the truck, the water hit the tuck bed and came straight back at me, now intermingled with skunk spray. What a fitting end to a terrible experience.

I finished washing my truck and then washed it again. I went home, and washed it a third time. It was no use.

Oh, the lessons you can learn living on a pseudo farm. You start out trying to catch a rat, and you end up covered in stink. I guess that’s just par for the farmer’s course.

If the Strong Don’t Help the Weak, Who Will?

“…the question that haunts me most, is what if he had been helped along the way by better friends who could have pulled him up, rather than leave him behind?”

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The Ascent

“I can’t hang out with him,” the young man said as he sheepishly glanced at the ground.

“What? Why not?” I asked with a sense of confusion.

“His parents won’t let him hang out with me because they think I’m a bad influence on him,” he continued.

I immediately felt a knot form in my stomach.

“Are you?” I questioned out loud.

His answer didn’t matter to me. Whether he was a bad influence or not, wasn’t the point. For years I worked with him and many other of the world’s best young men. Some further ahead on the path of life, some slightly off the path, and others aimlessly wandering in dark paths leading to trouble.

This young man was one of my favorites. He was smart. He had charisma. He had a terrific sense of humor. In my mind’s eye, I could see him as an adult, perhaps arguing a case in front of a judge and jury. I could see him standing in front of a classroom, teaching the future generations. I envisioned him piloting a plan from the ever-reaching sky. His future held so many possibilities.  A diamond for sure. Beneath the rough…absolutely.

His home life was not ideal. He had good parents who meant well, but they never provided him with structure. Their tainted view of the world—where anything unfortunate happened to them, was always someone else’s fault, not their own—permeated throughout their home and their children quickly grasped onto this paradigm. His mother worked full time while his father struggled to keep any employment for longer than a month or two. His career was littered with failed business ventures, and a great distain for any authoritative entity, especially the government. As one of the youngest children in the home, the familial education he received led to laziness and mistrust.

Most the community loved him. His charm and whit had people in stitches. His humor was a great defense to the underlying concerns and uncertainties of his life. But the love people felt for him was also guarded. His rough edges and questionable actions resulted in a buffer—people liked him, but they wouldn’t allow themselves to get too close or too involved.

“I don’t know if I’m a bad influence or not,” he replied to me. “I’m a good kid, don’t you think?”

“Yes, you are a good kid,” I replied. “But you could be better. You often times flirt with the line and sometimes even cross it,” I said bluntly.

Our relationship allowed me to share honest feelings and thoughts, knowing that instead of getting upset, he’d listen, knowing that I loved him, regardless of his imperfections.

We still remain in contact, though infrequent. It’s been many many years. Saying his path has been difficult in an understatement. He never graduated high school. He has jumped from one meaningless job to another. He barley stays in one location long enough to require changing his mailing address with the post office. My heart breaks.

Looking back at our conversation, I can’t help but wonder, “what if?” What if he were raised in a different situation, with different circumstances? What if he had structure while young? What if he had been taught that when life becomes difficult, you dig down deep and work harder. What if he had been taught that accountability solves life’s problems while blaming others only creates more?

But the question that haunts me most, is what if he had been helped along the way by better friends who could have pulled him up, rather than leave him behind? He sought the acceptance of the great achievers. He pined for the chance to be in their homes, to participate with their families, to feel that great sense of love and accountability. I know he wanted those things and to a great extent, still feels that way today.

. . .

My wonderful wife and I have four beautiful and wonderful children of our own. That wonderful journey has been extremely difficult but also so indescribably wonderful and magical. We are very fortunate. Most would look at our children and exclaim they are “perfect.” And even though they each have their own flaws and challenges, I would have to agree, that all-in-all, they are very good kids. They work hard in school. They work hard in the home. They are well-rounded and have great balance in life. All of which is because of the wonderful individuals they are and because they have the most incredible mother who never stops teaching them. My job, on the other hand, is primarily to do everything possible to not screw things up.

Not long ago my son and several of his close friends were playing in our yard when another boy their age stopped at our home and asked to participate in the levity. Trying to think fast on their feet, they boys quickly manufactured a tale that had them all leaving almost immediately for another location. The disheartened boy bowed his head and continued his homeward-bound trek.

My wife stepped outside and saw the boy slowly walking down the road and quickly gathered the other boys together. She didn’t tell them they were wrong. She didn’t demand they invite the boy back. She used the moment to teach.

“Don’t you think he could use some friends like all of you?” she asked the boys.

“Well, he got in a fight a school today,” one replied. “He is always causing trouble,” another blurted out.

“Did you boys know that he has struggles at home?” she continued to probe.

“He lashes out because of the challenging situations he experiences at home,” she explained. “He could really use some good friends, to help him and to teach him,” she said with a bit of sadness in her voice.

They boys stood quietly, realizing perhaps for the first time, why a fellow schoolmate acts the way he does, and feeling more sympathy for his circumstances.

“Maybe we should run down the street and ask him to come back,” one of the boys enthusiastically proclaimed.

Immediately, they all ran across the grassy yard and headed down the street. When they caught up to him, they all implored him to come back and to join them. His eyes lit up with excitement and gratitude.

“I just need to call my mom and make sure it’s okay,” he said.

The phone conversation was brief. He pleaded and bargained for the opportunity to stay. Then, he hung up.

“I have to go home,” he said with somberness. “I got in a fight today at school and my mom said as punishment, I have to go home.”

Later that same night, as my teenage daughters, my son, and many of their friends sat around our kitchen counter, I pleaded with them all, to realize there are other children their ages that need good friends. There are those who wander down difficult paths and need the help of others to help guide them back so they can find peace and joy and happiness.

As a parent, I pray for my children to have help along their journey. Good, strong friends who help lift them and champion their efforts to do good and to excel. I can understand why a parent would want their child to associate with good, uplifting friends. It is easy to want to wrap our children in bubble wrap to protect them from the vile things of the world. But is that really what helps them most? This attitude can certainly put a parent’s mind at ease, but is it what is best for a child?

We should do everything in our power to help teach our children to do good; to choose the right. But that is not enough. If we teach our children to avoid those who struggle, what are we really teaching them? That they are better than others? That those who struggle aren’t worthy enough to associate with?

Part of teaching our children to do good is to allow them the opportunity to practice those teachings. How can we expect our children to be trustworthy, without giving them opportunities to show they can be trusted?

If I have a child that struggles, I would pray someone would help them…help lift them up. But if those kids’ parents don’t allow them to associate with my struggling child, where will the help come from?

As we journey in this life, it is important to remember that this life is not a competition. When we die it will not matter what we’ve accumulated or acquired. It will not matter if we lived a life of kings and queens, or a life of a pauper. What will truly matter, is how we treated others. How we helped lift others who need lifting.

If I cannot say I trust my child will help lift another, while maintaining the morals, values, and standards I have taught them, then I have failed as a parent. If my child doesn’t reach out to include those that need to be included, then I have failed as a parent. If I cannot see the value in allowing my child the opportunity to experience diversity in all its different forms, and instead worry that such experiences could hinder my own child’s growth, then I have not succeeded to fulfill my role as a parent.

The world is full of people that need lifting. The path is difficult, and all of us, at some point in our life, will need help from those who can reach down and pull us up. While we sojourn in this life, if we never look behind us to help those who need help, and if we only focus on our own ascent and destination, we are missing the point of this life.

Mortuary Life for the Living

“He’s not dead! Get those, chest shocker things in here immediately!” I said with my eyes wide open and my face ghostly white.

“Marley was dead… dead as a doornail,” penned Charles Dickens in his classic, A Christmas Carol. But as we learn, Scrooge in fact saw Marley later that night as he came back as a spirit to warn his dear friend of an endless torment that awaited him if he didn’t change his ways.

Dicken’s composition tugs at the untamed nerves of many, as they imagine the possibility of encountering a scary spirit. It’s not possible, is it? No, of course not. Well…at least we’re mostly sure it’s not possible. But what if? The possibility, even if small, places one on alert.

As a young 24-year-old, newly married, husband…still struggling to finish school and wanting to support my young wife, finances were sparse. Between the two of us, we worked the equivalent of one full-time job, making roughly minimum wage, while both attending school full time. Looking at our budget, there wasn’t enough to cover all our expenses. So, I went the unconventional route.

If my sweetheart would agree, we could live at a Mortuary for free. Well, there is really no such thing as free. In return for the one-bedroom, cinderblock-walls apartment, I would pick up the deceased from 6 p.m. in the evening until 6 a.m. the next morning. Removing the rent expense from our budget, we would barely make it.

. . .

He was dead! Why else would I have been called to the home to pick him up and take him to the mortuary?  When the call came in, I was nervous. My experience with the deceased was extremely limited. A couple grandparents had passed, but aside from that, I had hardly ever even been to a funeral.

“Steve, this is Rob, one of the funeral directors,” I heard on the other end of the phone. “We just got a call and I need you down here in 15 minutes.”

I rushed to get my suit on, grateful that the funeral director would assist me for my virgin voyage in this uncharted water. My wife kissed me as I left and gave me encouragement. “You’ll be fine. Good luck!” she said as I shut the door.

The funeral director spent the entire 15-minute car ride giving me instruction. Talk about a seemingly steep learning curve. To this day, I don’t remember a word he said. My mind wandered to all sorts of scenarios, not knowing what to expect, except the worst.

When we arrived, we found a very distraught family, huddled together, crying, and wiping their eyes. Rob addressed the family and I willingly said nothing.

“When you are ready, we can get go him, but there is no hurry,” said Rob.

“We are ready,” the family member said hesitantly.

Walking behind the woman, we slowly made our way down the hallway, pushing the shrouded gurney. She quietly opened the door and we walked in. Rob described to the woman how we would gently remove her loved one from the bed and place him on the gurney, and then excused her from the room.

My heart was racing. The man had died while in bed and the blankets and covers were pulled up to his chin, exposing only his green-color-tinted face. Cancer. Chemotherapy often times distorts the color of a person’s skin.

I could feel my hands start to sweat and my mouth got sticky. Rob moved to one side of the bed and I removed a flat sheet from our gurney. Rob pulled the covers back and I placed the sheet over the body from head to toe.

Rob explained to me that I would roll the body toward me, up on its side and he would tuck the sheet under the body. He would then roll the body back toward him up on its side, and I would tuck the sheet from the other side, wrapping the body in the sheet fully. We would then lift the torso to the gurney, followed by the legs and feet.

“Are you okay?” Rob asked as he saw the look on my face.

I remember nodding my head as my eyes remained fixed on the unknown man’s covered, motionless body.

“Okay, let’s do this,” Rob announced.

I reached across the other side of the bed and took a good hold on the man’s far shoulder.

Almost instantly, the man made a loud groan and moan as I pulled him toward me. I let go and jumped back. I nearly fainted.

“He’s not dead!” I exclaimed loud enough to alarm the funeral director.

“Shhhhhhhhhh!” Rob said emphatically with a look of anger on his face.

“He’s not dead! Get those, chest shocker things in here immediately!” I said with my eyes wide open and my face ghostly white.

“Will you please shut up!” Rob demanded. “The family is going to hear you!”

I looked back down at the dead body and realized he wasn’t moving. What was going on? I was so confused. Saying I was shocked was about as big an understatement as anyone could make.

“There was air in his lungs and when you moved him, it forced the air out,” Rob explained. “It is fairly common. Calm down.”

Calm down? I almost calmed all the way down with my heart nearly stopping.

. . .

As I got back to our apartment, I sat down softly on our second-hand couch, and my wife came happily into the front from, eager to know how it went.

“So?” she asked. “How was it?”

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I said softly. “How would you feel about living under a viaduct?”

It got easier but it never got easy. After 2.5 years, desensitization should have kicked in, but it never fully did. Most were elderly and it was a blessing for them to go. Suicides were very hard. Children were almost unbearable.

Many times, I’d return from a pick up, late at night and tip toe into our bedroom. Seeing my sweet wife lying there, I’d start panicking.

“Is she breathing?” I would think in my mind. I’d worry and lean down closely to her face listening for her to exhale.

Death is a natural part of life. After all, we all live and will all one day die. We can do everything to prevent it from happening, but death is ultimately a tax we all must pay.

In those few years working at the mortuary, I had many unapparelled experiences. Some sad; some happy. Some eerie experiences, and some very special. I experienced emotions from every part of the spectrum from complete and utter devastation—the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth—to true happiness and joy as a loved one could finally slip from the troubled circumstances of life to a more glorified and peaceful state.

It was an honor to help families in those most fragile and susceptible circumstances. Helping the deceased in a time when they could not help themselves. The dignity and celebration of life was special. Caring for a loved one by helping lift a burden too heavy for many of them to bear.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We don’t raise chickens. We raise children.

The feeling of relief and accomplishment was palatable as we broke from our perched views inside and went back to our own chores. With success now obtained, we all laughed as we recalled the struggle, the agony, and the anguish.

With great exertion, he inched his way across the grassy path towards the fence gate, barely able to maintain his grip on the flimsy bag. Finally, exasperated, he dropped the bag of chicken food at his feet. He rested for but a second. Then, in frustration, he kicked the heap, over and over until he was too tired to continue.

Standing there exhausted, his eyes rose to see the gate’s latch. Stepping over the mound of food, he reached and unlocked the clasp, turning his attention back to the task at hand.

As I peered out the window, watching my 11-year-old boy struggle, I desperately wanted to rush out and help with the remaining 75 feet he had to travel. I could easily throw the 50-pound sack on my shoulder and carry it the rest of the way. My wife, also witnessing this event, fought her urges as she saw her little boy struggling, fighting, and nearly giving up.

“Oh, how sad!” she exclaimed with somberness and concern.

“It’s okay,” I said, also feeling the same instincts. “It’s okay; he can do it. Just wait and watch.”

By this time, my three daughters had also pressed their noses against the kitchen windows as they watched their brother finally reach down and grab the unruly mess from the ground. He pulled up with his might, and continued his inch-by-inch journey, slowly shuffling along another foot, then two, then three.

Again, the bag dropped from his tired fingers and arms. The beads of sweat rolled from his brow and down his cheeks as he straightened up with fatigue.

We all watched with great anticipation. But now, our comments of pity had turned to thoughts of encouragement.

“Come on, Jack. You can do it,” I thought in my mind. “Keep going; you’re almost there.”

His sisters laughed, but their love for their brother softened their playfulness and they too were torn by their desires to both help and embolden their brother.

Looking down at the load and then looking back up to the finish line, he slowly turned around. His arms too tired to lift any longer, he grabbed the ends of the bag and paused. Summing up what energy he had left, the bag slowly moved as he shuffled backwards dragging the bag one inch at a time. The bag started sliding easier now that it was lying on the paved pathway of the barn.

The feeling of relief and accomplishment was palatable as we broke from our perched views inside and went back to our own chores. With success now obtained, we all laughed as we recalled the struggle, the agony, and the anguish.

As he made his way back into the house later, I asked him if he finished his chores, including feeding the chickens and collecting the eggs.

“Did you get the chicken feed out to the birds?” I asked.

“Yep,” he confidently replied.

“Did you have any problems doing so?” I inquired, offering him an opening to discuss both the challenge and the triumph.

“Nope!” he said with an even greater sense of assurance and self-reliance.

“We saw you kicking the bag of food!” his sister blurted out with gaiety and accusation.

We all started to laugh, including Jack, who is always humble, and never too serious about himself and often ventures into a bit of self-deprecation.

“Well, the bag was really heavy,” he said with a big toothy grin.

Fresh eggs. That’s why we do it. At least that is what everyone thinks. Yes, the fresh eggs are wonderful, and the Savages eat a lot of eggs…a LOT of eggs.

But in the end, Jen and I don’t raise fresh eggs. We don’t even raise chickens. What we try to do, is raise great children. As a parent, letting my children struggle through the hard things in life, brings me more joy than when their path is easy. They can do hard things because they are great, and because we let them do hard things.

 

Hand vs. Snow Blower

As I glanced down, I noticed bumps and pieces of my hand jetting out in all different directions. The misplaced fingers poked up, out and sideways…

Part One

The greatest snow on earth! That’s what they say.

Utah promotes this slogan and proudly advertises it on its Ski Utah license plates.

Most snow to hit the Utah mountains comes from the west. Rain storms in California follow a path that drags across California to Nevada, and on to Utah. The Nevada and Utah deserts generally dry out the wet California rain clouds and drops the temperature, freezing the rain that then falls in Utah as soft, light, fluffy snowflakes that skiers and snowmobilers find irresistible.

Living in Ohio for a couple years, the state’s different weather patterns introduced me to something entirely different. Freezing rain, and heavy, wet, dense snow, filled with buckets of water. It was definitely different than the Greatest Snow on Earth found in the Utah mountains.

But not every Utah snowstorm contains the air-light snowflakes housing little water and mounds of powdery snow. Yes, Utah does at times, have wetter-than-usual snow storms that gnarl roadways with crashed vehicles, and break the backs of snow shovelers as they lift soppy wet, slushy shovel-filled scoops of snow from their driveways.

For those of us fortunate enough, the use of a snow blower helps alleviate sore backs and arms, during such snow storms. I was grateful for my two-stage blower on a blustery winter day on December 19, 2013. At least I was at first.

I woke up earlier than usual, knowing that the anticipated snow storm dumped about a foot of snow along the Wasatch front. I ate breakfast, and then made my way outside and cranked up my used, but effective, snow blower. It fired right up and lit the air with the aroma of mixed gas and oil.

I quickly ran the machine back and forth up and down our driveway, all while noticing how much the blower struggled to capture and shoot the slushy wet snow. Several times, the chute would clog with the cement-like material and I would stop and free the blower’s long neck from its suffocating sludge.

As I finished another pass down the driveway, I headed into the street for a few feet where the snow was especially soggy. Like before, the five horse power engine struggled and the chute again clogged. My hands were already drenched as the snow had seeped through my tight spandex gloves. Looking down at the chute, I could see it would take some work to clear.

Wanting to be safe, I turned the engine off and I started clearing the snow with my left hand, while bracing myself and my weight with my right hand placed on the snow blower’s handle. Several times I grabed a handful of slush and threw it aside. With three-quarters of the chute now free, I plunged my hand down once again.

BAM!

The sound was so loud it scared me, and I jerked back, for a second. The loud bang made me think that a rock had crashed into my closed garage door.

I immediately felt both pain and tingling in my left hand. In a moment, I realized what had happened. The snow blower had crushed my hand as the built-up torque in the auger was released as I removed the snow from its jaws.

I was nervous. What had happened exactly? Did I break a finder? Did I get cut? Too afraid to look down, I started moving each finger independently to try and determine the damage.

Wiggling my thumb, I realized that I could still move it normally, but that the tip of my thumb was in horrible pain. Moving to my pointer finger, I tried to move it. This caused excruciating pain and I realized, that finger was broken. I then tried moving my middle finger, with the same result—it was broken. Moving down my hand, I tried wiggling my ring finger—broken for sure.

The realization of what had happened started to sink in. I was in trouble. I then moved to my pinky finger, trying to move it. What pinky finger? I couldn’t feel it at all. Where was it?

With the snow blower still sitting in the middle of the street, snow still pouring down, I mustered up the courage to slowly look down at my hand to survey the damage.

My skin-tight spandex glove was still on my hand. As I glanced down, I noticed bumps and pieces of my hand jetting out in all different directions. The misplaced fingers poked up, out and sideways, but they were still covered by the glove.

I felt sick. My hand throbbed. I became nervous. Maybe I was in shock.

With my hand and arm now pressed up against the trunk of my body, I struggled to grab the snow blower with my right hand and direct it back into the garage. I somehow dragged it up the driveway and made my way to the door.

Kicking off my boots, I went into the house and leaned up against a wall, feeling like I was about to pass out. I hollered for my wife. “Jen!” No response. So I yelled louder. “JEN!” I could hear her upstairs struggling with our children trying to get them ready for school.

“What!” she replied.

“Jen, I need your help!” I mustered.

“What do you need,” she said in a slightly curt manner.

“I’ve had an accident and I need your help, now,” I said.

I could hear her footsteps as she ran down the hallway to the top of the stairs where I stood at the bottom.

“What happened?!,” she exclaimed. Her tone had changes from agitation to frightened.

“I got my hand caught in the snow blower and we need to go to the hospital. Now,” I said emphatically.

The gravity of the moment hit her like a ton of bricks. She burst into tears and seeing their mother cry and their father pale and in pain, the kids also started crying hysterically.

I didn’t want them to panic. “It’s going to be okay. It really is. Everything will be fine, but I need to get to the hospital right now,” I said. “Calm down and call your aunt and have her come over and watch the kids while mommy takes me to the hospital.”

Jen immediately took action. She called my sister and I stumbled out the door and into the car. Within minutes, Jen jumped in the car and we started off to the hospital.

The snow made the roads a mess. We tried to get to the hospital as quickly as possible, but the traffic and weather impeded our progress. As I sat in the car, still holding my hand to my chest, I thought to myself, “Maybe I just have a couple broken bones and nothing too serious. Perhaps it would be better to bypass the hospital and just head to the local clinic,” I said to Jen.

I called my friend who worked at the clinic and told him of the situation. I said we would be there shortly, and he said he’d be ready for us.

It felt like hours before we arrived. When we finally did, my friend was waiting for us at the front door and immediately rushed us back to a room in the Orthopedics area of the hospital. A nurse and orthopedist were waiting for us.

I sat next to a small examination table, and I placed my hand gently upon the top of the table. The nurse took scissors and started cutting the glove from my hand. I was nervous. I remember talking almost uncontrollably, making jokes, trying to reduce the stress I felt and the nervousness that engulfed me. I stared into Jen’s eyes as they pulled the glove off my hand.

Jen looked down at my hand and her optimistic and concerned eyes turned to looks of horror. My heart started beating faster and I said, “No! No! No! Don’t do that!” She looked back at me with terror. “Please don’t look at me like that!” I implored. “Please don’t make that face,” I begged.

She mustered everything within her and said with a very week and soft voice, “It’s…um…it’s…not…um…it’s not that bad.” Her voice quivered. She was lying and I knew it.

By this time, the clinic’s CEO was in the room with us. Surveying the situation, he calmly came over and said to Jen, “Why don’t you run down to the pharmacy and pick up some pain meds for Steve.” Jen exited the room.

The doctor’s face was focused. I saw an intensity in his eyes as he looked at my hand. He then demanded of the nurse, “We need a ring cutter.” My wedding ring! I had forgotten that it was still on my hand.

“We don’t have a ring cutter,” the nurse replied.

“I don’t want to hear what we don’t have. We need a ring cutter and we need it right now,” he said with greater intensity. The nurse again tried to explain that they don’t keep ring cutters on hand. The doctor cut her off and yelled, “Get me a ring cutter right now or he will lose this finger!”

They both scurried out of the room to find a ring cutter. My friend and I were left alone. My heart was racing. I felt sweat form on my forehead.

“Steve,” my friend said. “It is bad.”

I welcomed his honesty. But I was scared.

I tried to make jokes again. I remember talking and talking but about nothing. I then had a thought.

“Kevin,” I said, “Go grab a camera and take some pictures.”

I knew if I had looked directly at my hand right then, I might have passed out. But I knew at some point I would like to see what had happened.

As Kevin went to grab a camera, the doctor and nurse came back in. They had found a ring cutter and started to cut my ring. There was pain. A lot of pain. They had to move quickly because my ring had been completely clamped onto my finger. All blood supply was stopped and had been for nearly an hour. Finally, the ring released.

My wife returned with pills that I choked down. The doctor assessed the situation and determined that it would be best for me to head to the hospital, knowing I would need surgery.

The doctor wrapped my hand in gauze and sent me on my way. The hospital was another 20 miles away and the roads were still a mess.  A few minutes into our drive, the pain pills started kicking in and the pain had started to subside. We arrived at the emergency room and they assigned me a room.

It had been only a couple hours since I had eaten my breakfast, so the doctors made me wait in the ER for another six hours, to assure I wouldn’t aspirate my food into my lungs during the surgery. They had me hooked up to an IV and administered medicine to help keep the pain at a minimum. I remember my nose itching uncontrollably. Apparently, my body was allergic to the medicine.

“You’re in luck!” the charge nurse said as she whipped back the curtain and entered my room. “The doctor on call today is a hand specialist.”

 

Part Two

The pre-surgery consultation was fairly quick. A brief exam. A quick look at the x-rays.

“Do you have any questions?” the doctor asked.

“Yes, what are the chances I keep my finger?” I inquired.

I knew my pinky was in a bad way. Looking at my bandaged hand, I could see the tip of the pinky lying over the second joint of my pointer finger. But, I could squeeze the tip and see blood circulating and I had total feeling.

“What do you do for a living?” the doctor asked.

“I sit at a computer all day long, typing,” I said with a little worry, thinking about the worst-case scenario.

“Well,” he said, “I’ll see what I can do,” he said as he scooted his chair across the floor and headed to his next appointment.

His response didn’t instill a lot of confidence in me. At least it is my pinky, I thought. If I have to lose a finger, the pinky on my left hand would be my choice.

They wheeled me back to the operating room and I moved from my gurney to the operating table. I could feel my heartbeat pounding in my chest.

. . .

I remember waking up and my hand was immobilized and wrapped up extensively. I could hear Jen’s voice. “How are you doing, sweetheart?”

“Did he take my finger off?” I asked.

“Yes, he had to take it off,” she said with sadness and sympathy.

“Did he keep it in a jar for me to take home?” I responded.

There was a little laughter to lighten the mood. Even though I had lost my finger, there was a small part of me that thought it would be a little cool. You know, to have a little stubin’ rather than a full finger. Yeah, that is weird, I know. But I did worry how I would adapt when using a computer and having to type.

The surgery only took about 30 minutes. My hand was broken in eight places; more specifically, my fingers were broken in eight places. My pinky had taken the most abuse followed by my pointer finger. My middle finger broke in two places—at the base between the first two joints, and at the tip, just below my top joint.

The doctor placed 10-inch stainless steel pins underneath my fingernails, that ran straight through each finger and exited just below my knuckles. He also used a separate wire to wrap around my pointer finger’s base bone. He said that bone was crushed like an egg shell and he hoped the wire would keep the bones close enough to each other that they would eventually heal. Looking at my x-rays, I looked like Wolverine, with steel blades in my fingers.

My hand was completely immobilized in a cast. It made it hard to sleep. My hand hurt, of course, but the immobilization is what really bothered me most—both physically and mentally. It made me feel claustrophobic.

Within days of the accident, I kept telling Jen my hand didn’t feel right. I told her the cast was making me crazy and that the immobilization was having a significant impact on my mental ability to handle the accident and my situation.

We made calls to the doctor. I asked if they could splint my hand, rather than have it in a cast. My requests were denied. Each week, the hospital would take more pictures of my hand and send me with a disc with the scans to the doctor’s office. Each week he would review the progress and send me home.

Three weeks after the surgery, it was time to remove the pins. As I entered the doctor’s office, I noticed some pliers sitting on his table. They were just like pliers you’d buy at Home Depot. They had rubber grip handles and were big and heavy. I asked what the pliers were for and the doctor replied, “We have to use them to pull the pins.”

Jen wanted to video him taking the pins out and I happily agreed. The doctor placed my hand in his lap and then positioned himself with his back to my torso as I laid on the bed. I couldn’t see what he was doing.

He used the pliers to grab hold of the pin in my pointer finger…and then he yanked, and yanked and yanked again. An immense pain shot throw my finger and my hand with each jerk. My heart rate skyrocketed. My eyes felt like they popped out of my head. I yelled! He stopped.

The pin didn’t budge.

I looked at Jen and said, “You cannot video this. Please stop videoing. I don’t want the kids to see this.”

The doctor slightly adjusted his posture and took a firmer grip on my hand and with the pliers on the pin. He pulled harder this time. I thought I would die. The pin didn’t budge and so he started to twist it back and forth, while he continued to yank, over and over.

I had enough. I demanded he stop. He was annoyed.

“We have to get them out!” he demanded.

“Then deaden my hand with a block. I’m not going through this anymore without some sedative,” I insisted.

He was even more annoyed. He got up from the table and asked his nurse to get him a syringe. He loaded the entire syringe with lidocaine.  He then took my hand and injected me in the wrist several times on the bottom and the top. Then he moved to the small space at the base between each finger and shoved the needle deep into each crease.

Each time he inserted the hypodermic into my hand, it burned with pain for a few seconds and then it went numb. He injected the lidocaine in 12 different locations on my hand, wrist and fingers. He was overdoing it.

He then got up and left the room and said curtly, “I’ll be back when your hand starts to numb.”

I lay there on the bed looking at Jen and told her how much it hurt when he was trying to pull the pins from my fingers. I had sweat on my brow. It had been a violent 15 minutes.

It felt like the doctor was gone forever. But I didn’t mind. I was worried that the lidocaine might not numb me enough and I dreaded the thought of him trying to remove the pins again. When he did come back in the room he asked if I could feel my hand and if I was ready. I replied by telling him that I thought I was ready, but that I was scared to have him try again.

His patience was spent, and he started again. This time…thankfully…when he pulled on the pins, they each slid out, almost effortlessly. He then again replaced the cast and sent me home.

We walked from the office and I felt like I had just run a marathon. I was spent—physically and mentally. This was so much more intrusive than the actual injury. This felt intentional. This felt unnecessary. This felt vindictive.

Another three weeks went by and I again had x-rays taken at the hospital. They handed me the disc and I was off to the doctor’s office. His nurse escorted me to an exam room and the doctor took the disc and disappeared behind his office door.

A few minutes later, the doctor rushed in the room and said it was time to remove the cast. I was grateful. As he cut the cast, I looked down at my hand. It was pale white and very gaunt. It still had dried blood here and there from the accident and surgery.

I lifted my hand and tried to move my fingers. Nothing. They wouldn’t move; not a single joint. Nothing at all.  Not even a little.

“You’re going to want to get into physical therapy as soon as possible,” the doctor said as he saw the look of concern on my face. “But you will want to tell the therapist to be really careful; your one finger isn’t completely healed yet.”

He left the room and his nurse handed me a large manila folder, containing the disc of the latest x-rays, the original x-rays, and the pins that he had removed in the earlier visit. I had so many questions, so many concerns, as I sat there alone.

I gathered up my things and headed to my car. I got in and started driving, still trying to move my fingers, and still no movement at all. I called Jen and told her the latest updates.

“Something is not right,” I said. “My fingers won’t move, and he said I still have a broken finger.”

 

Part Three

When I arrived home, I immediately wanted to see what the x-ray’s looked like. I opened them on my computer, not knowing if I’d know what I was looking at, with my layman eyes.

At first, I thought I was seeing things. Maybe I’m not looking at this correctly. Maybe I’m looking at the wrong x-rays. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Jen looked over my shoulder and immediately drew a quick breath and held it in amazement.

Yes, my finger was still broken. So were all three fingers. One break on my middle finger was healing but it was healing incorrectly, shortening it by a quarter inch.

We sat there in amazement. My fingers had not healed and now, from weeks of immobilization, the tendons and pulleys had scared over, and I had no movement in any of them. I was stunned. I was flabbergasted. I was angry.

That day I called several other doctors to get a second and third opinion. I secured appointments with two specialists, one an orthopedic specialist, the other a hand surgeon—both highly recommended by other patients and very well respected in the medical community. I took all the x-rays and pictures taken the day of the accident, the first pictures after I was put in a cast and pins, the third set after the pins were pulled, and the last set taken right before my last visit to my doctor. I walked both doctors through all the events that had taken place from the time of the accident to my meeting with them. Each doctor’s assessment was the same, and both were chilling.

First Doctor’s Findings

After looking at the x-rays and hearing the treatment provided, this doctor responded with great distain and disgust by stating, “The first rule you learn as a doctor is that you don’t bad mouth other doctors. But I can’t help myself…this doctor totally screwed you up!” He asked who performed my surgery and I told him. His responded “You should have seen a hand specialist from the start.”

“He is a hand specialist,” I replied.

“No he isn’t,” He quickly replied. “I know all the hand specialists in this state, and he isn’t one!”

I told him the doctor had a certificate hanging on his wall stating he performed a hand fellowship.

“Well, he’s not viewed as a hand specialist in this medical community,” he said gruffly.

He went on to tell me that immobilizing the fingers with pins was a practice of doctors 20-30 years ago but that for the last many years doctors utilize plates and screws to immobilize bone breaks and then start physical therapy a very short time after the surgery in order to assure scar tissue doesn’t build up on the tendons and pulleys resulting in complete lack of mobility in the fingers and joints.

This assessment was also confirmed when I went into the physical therapists for the first time. The therapist said, “Every doctor that sends patients to us would have you in therapy within a week or so after the accident.” He clearly assumed that plates and screws were used in my surgery, not long immobilizing pins.

The doctor, while looking at new x-rays taken in his office, verified that all three fingers were still broken. He also noticed that the break on the middle finger distal phalanx had bone unionization, however because it was not addressed in the first surgery, the bone had healed incorrectly, resulting in a shortening of my finger, creating a slack in the tendon. The tendon slack would ultimately result in no range of movement in the finger’s joint, aside from the scaring of the tendons and pulleys, which ultimately resulted in no range of motion.

The doctor’s final assessment and recommendation was to have a surgery where he would place plates and 12 screws on each proximal phalanx bone (all three), re-break the middle finger’s distal phalanx and re-attach it in the correct position using three screws, and perform extensor tenolysis—a freeing up of the tendons and pulleys by removing scar tissue—on the tops of the fingers and hand to free up the finger tendons and pulleys from scaring caused by the eight weeks of immobilization. After the surgery I would engage in a rigorous schedule of physical therapy to gain passive motion in my fingers and joints. After the passive motion was gained, I would have another surgery, flexor tenolysis, to regain active movement in my fingers and hand. Following that surgery, I would engage in physical therapy twice a day for three weeks straight, to assure the best possible results from the surgeries, followed up with therapy daily for a month, and then therapy three times a week for a month.

Second Doctor’s Findings

I was overwhelmed with the information the doctor gave to me. To be sure I was getting the correct diagnosis from this hand specialist, I scheduled another meeting with a different doctor, an orthopedic surgeon, as well. I was surprised that he gave me the same diagnosis. Not only regarding my hand, but the treatment I received from you. He said he didn’t know of a doctor that would have prescribed mobilization as my doctor did. His recommendation was three new surgeries; the first to put plates and screws in my broken fingers to finally reach unionization. The second surgery would be an extensor tenolysis. The third surgery would then be needed for flexor tenolysis. He also then would prescribe extensive physical therapy following each surgery.

The part that was also very alarming was the diagnosis that both doctors gave me regarding my pinky finger. After looking at all the x-rays and knowing that I had both feeling and circulation in the tip of my finger before the surgery, both doctors thought there was probably a very good chance I didn’t need to have it amputated. One doctor was extremely sure it shouldn’t have come off, the other reserved his judgment a bit by stating that without being in the surgery and seeing the actual damage in person, he couldn’t be for sure, but from all the x-rays and information I showed him, he said he thought there should have been an attempt to save it…especially since my career is based on my ability to type on a computer all day long, something I had notified the doctor of before my surgery.

I ultimately had three more surgeries. The three surgeries were necessary to 1. Get my bones to heal, 2. Regain passive movement in my fingers caused by the immobilization, and 3. Regain active movement in my fingers caused by the immobilization. And finally, my last, was to release a trigger finger and carpel tunnel syndrome created from the extensive 10 months—yes 10 months—of physical therapy.

Conclusion

In life, we often pay a stupid tax. We do stupid things and have to pay for it. Sometimes we lose money. Sometimes we lose a limb or an appendage. Sometimes we lose a friend. We learn lessons and receive a paid education from these types of experiences. The goal is to learn as much as possible, by paying as little as possible.

Today, my hand has regained 90% functionality. I have learned to adapt when working on the computer. The pain has finally subsided. I used to have phantom pain and feeling in my finger, but that has disappeared as well.

The biggest lesson I learned was I worked through my physical therapy. One night I sat at home after completing my exercises. I was tired, and tired of all of it. I was frustrated. I cursed the doctor who I believed to be the cause of my problems. If he had only done xyz. If he had not done abc. Why did he… Why didn’t he…I went on and on.

Jen sat with me sympathetically listening and then said, “Well, you can look at your circumstances in two ways. First, you can be frustrated and angry. You can blame the doctor. You can worry about paying all the doctor’s and hospital’s bills. You can do all of this and you are completely justified in doing so.”

She continued, “Or, you can be grateful.”

“Grateful!” I nearly screamed. “Grateful for what? What is there to be grateful for?

I wanted to have a pity party and she was ruining it for me.

“You can be grateful you have use of your hand. You can be grateful we have health insurance to cover a lot of the cots. You can be grateful the accident didn’t take your hand, or arm, or worse. You could be grateful you have a family who loves you and supports you. You could be grateful we have enough money to cover the expenses.”

She was right and I knew it. That didn’t make it easier in the moment. But she was absolutely correct. Even while in the middle of the difficulties, I still had so much—have so much—to be thankful for.

 

 

The Game-winning Shot

…three, two, one…

Dribbling the ball, I raced down the court as fast as I could. The cheers of the crowd were almost deafening. I raised up, and the ball released from my fingertips toward the rim.

I was 10 years old. A formidable time of life, where a kid’s only worries were whether or not he’d get to watch Saturday morning cartoons, or if he had forgotten to close the stall doors in the barn after feeding the horses.

Growing up in Smallville, USA, life was bliss. We lived up a semi-private, quarter-mile dirt road, that was more of a goat trail than a road. We were surrounded by mountains and trees, and all sorts of wildlife. I could take a five minute walk and find myself dunking a worm in the Weber River trying to catch a rainbow trout.

At night, we’d open our home’s windows to allow the cool mountain air to permeate from room to room. You could faintly hear in the distance, the daily cargo train blast its horn several times as it made its way down the winding canyon rail. Yes, it was a magical place to grow up. But I digress.

Living in Smallville, one of the highlights of my youth was the opportunity to participate in extra-curricular activities, such as basketball and football. Because the population was so scarce, nearly all who came out to play were afforded the opportunity to join a team. The thirty boys my age were split into five basketball teams, and we played games in the local high school gymnasium on Saturday mornings.

Games were mostly for fun, but even at this tender age, the competitive drive had begun to develop in our brains as we hustled our very best to pull off a win. They were never high-scoring affairs, but they were intense.

The limited scoring from all teams, made every basket feel all that more important. A six-point lead felt almost insurmountable.

I proudly wore the name of Celtics across my chest, as did the rest of my teammates. This particular Saturday morning, we had the task of taking on the Hawks, the team in first place.

The game went back and forth as both team, almost unconsciously, traded baskets at an alarming rate. Celtics by two. Now a tied game. Hawks by two; and now four. And the Celtics claw their way back to tie the game. As the quarters came and went, neither team could pull away from the other. The crowd, full of anxious parents and bored siblings, rose to their feet as their team scored each point.

And then, it happened.

With a tied ballgame, my teammates and I found ourselves without the ball with a few seconds remaining. The Hawks lined up to throw the ball in from the sideline at mid-court. They needed a basket. We needed a miracle.

The referee blew his whistle and handed the ball to the Hawk player standing out of bounds. Both teams scurried here and there with the Hawks trying to get open and the Celtics trying desperately to cover every passing lane.

Finally, the ball came sailing into play with a high arching pass that seemed to float effortlessly through the gym’s rafters and slowly descended to the floor. I started running as fast and as hard as I could, needing to beat my man to the ball.

With all the energy I could muster, I stretched my arm and hand as far as I could reach. I felt the ball touch my extended fingertips as the it deflected away from its intended course.

The crowd roared to an earsplitting decibel. I picked up the ball and sprinted down the floor. The crowd got louder and louder as I approached the basket. I could hear them calling my name. “SAV – AGE!” “SAV – AGE!” “SAV – AGE!”

…three, two, one…

I raised up, and the ball released from my fingertips toward the rim. Everything slowed down, just like in the movies. The ball’s rotation slowly overturned, revealing the brand Wilson as the leather globe reached the cylinder.

Swish!

The ball and net’s harmonious sound echoed against the noise of the crowd as I jumped high into the air, celebrating my game-winning shot!

Turning around I quickly spotted the familiar faces in the crowd holding despondent looks of dissatisfaction, and the unfamiliar faces cheering for delight. I continued surveying to see my teammates with heads down, slowly walking off the court, and the Hawks team jumping up and down in jubilation.

It was then I realized that the cheering crowd was not in fact cheering me on as I raced down the court with the ball. No, instead they were imploring me to stop, and to turn around, as I headed for the wrong basket.

It was eight years later before I’d get another chance to make a game-winning basket, but that is another story for another day.

The Celtics ended up winning the league that year, with the Hawks in second place. Receiving the small victor’s medal at the end of the year, help soothe the pain of the errant shot I had made earlier in the season, and today, I look back at that impressionable time and experience with fondness and humor.

“SAV – AGE!” “SAV – AGE!” “SAV – AGE!” Oh what fun memories.

 

What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

My heart dropped. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. The room started spinning. I could feel my mouth become sticky and my hands became freezing cold and they started to sweat.

Spoiler alert! A professional basketball player, I am not.

One of the most cherished attributes of childhood is the ability to dream…and to dream big. Where your only limits are the creative thoughts of your mind. No limitations. No boundaries.

Want to be a doctor? Of course you can. Want to be a teacher? You will be the very best. Cure cancer? No problem! Travel to Mars? Simple!

Yes, adolescent exuberance and unfettered envisaging, allow the innocence of free thought and expectation to flow effortlessly through the mind of a young boy. It’s too bad we must advance in years, where the hard cruel world continues to discourage such thought and snuffs out the dreams and aspirations of our childhood.

I remember clearly the moment when it happened to me. It was in the sixth grade. I was at the tender age of 12 years old. The assignment: “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Finally, a school assignment to get excited about. This wasn’t complicated mathematics, or boring reading…I finally had an assignment I was really excited to engage in. I already knew the answer! This was an assignment, if ever there was one, where I had a guaranteed “A.”

The assignment came with instructions written out on a form. They explained I was to list my top three choices for future professions, and then to provide the supporting detail on how I would achieve the goal of becoming each of those chosen professions.

I enthusiastically engaged!

  1. Professional Basketball Player

Looking at the empty slots for the second and third choice, I thought to myself, “Why do I need to write anything in either of these two slots? I’m going to be a professional basketball player, so who cares about any other professions?”

I proceeded to fill out the detail behind my chosen career choice.

“I will practice basketball every day.”

“I will play basketball in college.”

“Then I will play in the National Basketball Association.”

I wrote each word out very carefully, paying particular attention to my penmanship and legibility. After all, this was the crowning event of my scholastic achievement to date.

Sitting back in my chair, I reviewed my plan. It was foolproof! I could see in my mind’s eye, my teacher reading my short essay and then look at me and say, “This is a magnificent proclamation! You WILL play basketball professionally. You will make millions of dollars!”

I could almost hear the crowds cheering!

In order to finish the assignment, I quickly filled out the other two career options…a dentist, and a businessman. But I thought, “these two don’t even matter. I’m going to play in the NBA!”

Most school assignments in the seventh grade didn’t come with a one-on-one meeting with the teacher, and this assignment was the only one I remember having a parent attend the teacher-student pow wow. Nonetheless, I looked forward to the meeting where I proudly presented my master’s thesis.

I really liked my sixth-grade teacher. He was a boy’s man. He related really well to young boys. He had a high tolerance to the little annoying adolescent antics, yet he had a way to correct without crushing. He was tall and slim, with greying hair on both sides of his head, but bald on top. He had a deep booming voice that held a particular gravitas and respect.

My mother and I sat across from him in his classroom. The light reflected off his shiny head as he seemed to tower over us both even while sitting.

He pulled my essay from his stack of papers and discussed the importance of the assignment. I looked at him, then looked at my mother. Then I looked back at him, my face beaming with pride and confidence. For the first time ever, I sat with a teacher and a parent not worrying about what hammer was about to fall.

“I’ve read your career choices,” he started. “Do you know how many boys have come to this meeting over the years, stating they want to play professional basketball or football? Seemingly hundreds!,” he said with an indication of annoyance. “And do you know how many of them have become professional athletes?”

Oh no. What was going on? His tone was far from supportive; I must be missing something. I quickly straightened up in my chair and focused with laser precision on his every word.

“Zero!,” he continued. “That’s how many. Zero! What makes you any different?”

My heart dropped. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. The room started spinning. I could feel my mouth become sticky and my hands became freezing cold and they started to sweat. I started to shake.

In an instance, my confidence was crushed, and was immediately replaced by fear. I could feel the tears welling up and I was afraid I couldn’t control them. I didn’t want to cry in front of my teacher. I didn’t, but I wanted to.

“It is extremely difficult make the NBA. Less than 1% of all players become professional,” he continued as he surveyed the rest of my paper. “You’d better focus on some other career options.”

Never before had any boy been as devastated as I was at that moment. For the first time I could remember, the world had given me a blow, that immediately made question my abilities, my goals, my dreams. For the first time ever, there were limits, there were boundaries. Boundaries that I had no idea even existed. If I couldn’t become a professional basketball player, what else could I not become?

A piece of me died that day.

Thirty-five years later, I reflect back on that day, not knowing whether I should feel sad or mad, or if I should feel grateful. It is true, I never became a professional basketball player. Even if I had never had the conversation with my teacher, chances are that I never would have. So perhaps my teacher did me a favor? Perhaps he helped me understand that it is important to have a second or a third option?

But, then again.

In the first few pages of his book, Shoe Dog, Phil Knight, the founder of Nike remembers back to the time he had his “Crazy Idea.”

“I thought, just maybe, I need to take one more look at my Crazy Idea. Maybe my Crazy idea just might…work?

“Maybe.

“No, no, I thought…It will work. By God I’ll make it work. No maybes about it.

“So at that moment in 1962 I told myself: Let everyone else call your idea crazy…just keep going. Don’t stop. Don’t even think about stopping until you get there, and don’t give much thought to where ‘there’ is. Whatever comes, just don’t stop.”

Now as a parent, my children have dreams and goals. They see no limits. They know no boundaries. Or at least that is what I try to instill in them every single day. They are bright. They are smart. They work hard. They truly and unequivocally can do, or can become anything they can dream of. No dreams are too big. No goals are too high. No ideas too crazy.

Yes, a small part of me died 35 years ago. But today it burns brightly again within me as I see, and understand, and envision all that my children CAN and WILL accomplish in their lives.

The Phone Call

It was at this time that I thought to myself…I’m going to help my sister.

If I close my eyes and concentrate, I can still feel the stinging pain of having my leg hairs yanked out of my skin by my pestering four sisters.

Being the only boy, and second youngest of five children, my sisters knew there were several things they could do to get under my skin. Pinning me down and pulling the hair on my legs topped the list of unpleasantries, which also included, touching my food (gross!), calling me “Stephanie,” dressing me up in girls’ clothes, curling my hair with a curling iron, and blaming me for things I didn’t do.

Yes, they loved to tease their younger brother and making my life miserable, but growing up with four sisters in the end, was truly a magnificent blessing; one I cherish still to this day. But in the moment, as my leg lie stinging and rashy red, I couldn’t help but dream about being an only child.

Having older sisters fairly close in age, also posed another interesting dilemma for a pre-pubescent boy. You see, there is a reason why my Dad referred to me as “Bullfrog,” during my 11 to 14 years of age. My young, childish and even feminine boy voice, would often times crack and break down into low, croaking sounds that hardly sounded like actual words. And more times than not, when answering the phone, I was often mistaken as one of my sisters. Answering the phone and having the other person on the line express, “Hello Chrissy!” didn’t exactly instill great confidence in my young fragile male psyche.

With three older sisters and one younger, and no brothers in the house, one doesn’t need to think too hard to figure out what the Savage family conversation topics compiled. There was cheerleading, dancing, boys, and drama, and…well…more drama. Did I mention there was a little drama in the house?

One such dramatic subject for one of my sisters, was the irritating pursuit of a boy, trying to win her affection. The repetitive conversation went something like this:

Sister: “He won’t stop calling me…”

Mom: “Just be nice and he’ll eventually figure it out.”

Sister: “He is driving me crazy!”

Mom: “I know, but it’s okay.”

Now, as a boy and a brother, the solution was quite simple to me. Just tell they guy to take a hike! Why is that so hard? Why all the drama The heartache? The time and discussion? After all, isn’t the nice thing, and telling the truth, the same thing?…rather than dragging it out for weeks or months.

So one early evening, we were all home, all doing our normal stuff—preparing dinner, doing homework, engaging in meaningless idle chit chat, and watching television. Just a normal night for the Savage family.

All of a sudden, the phone rang.

This was back when there was no such thing as caller ID. To find out who was calling, you actually had to pick up the phone and ask. But with a family of four girls, most of them teenagers, there was a good chance that the caller was a boy admirer.

Ring…ring…ring…ring… “Hello,” I answered.

Caller: “Hello Chrissy, how are you?”

PAUSE…and I was a little perturbed to be thought of as a girl.

Me: “This isn’t Chrissy!”

Caller: “Yes it is! What are you up to?”

Me (with a little terseness): “Who is this!?”

Caller: “It’s Fred.”

I figured I don’t need to mention his real name here. So we will call him Fred.

It was at this time that I thought to myself…I’m going to help my sister. I love her. I’ve seen the struggle she’s gone through. I was always taught to help my siblings. Besides, this guy just referred to me as a girl, and I wasn’t in the most pleasant state of mind.

Me: “This is Fred?! Well I’m glad you called.”

Caller: “You are?” with a tone of excitement, feeling he might finally have the opening he had worked so hard for.

Me: “Yes, I’m glad you called.”

And then, I let him have it.

Me: “I really wish you’d stop calling me. I don’t like you. You’re doing nothing but bugging me by calling. Do you understand?”

Caller: “What?”

Me: “Yeah, I really don’t like you. You’re nice and all, but I wish you’d just leave me alone.”

There was dead silence.

I stood there with the phone cord wrapped around my leg, looking through the refrigerator for something the eat, while having the phone resting on my shoulder, waiting for a response. I was actually quite proud of myself.

Caller: “Um, okay.”

Me: “Okay, goodbye then.”

CLICK

As I hung up the phone I proudly strutted off from the kitchen, like a cocky rooster who just inherited 10 new hens to his brood.

“Guess what I just did?,” I asked my sister and Mom sitting at the kitchen table. Not wanting to spoil the mood by having them actually start guessing, I continued.

“That was Fred on the phone just now. He was sure that I was you and so I got rid of him for you.” I stood there waiting for the praises to be showered upon me. After all, I was the cool younger brother who had his sister’s back and who had just solved her problem.

“You did what?” my Mom replied. The look on her face conveyed more disgust, than a real question.

“Fred thought I was Chrissy on the phone, so I told him that he should stop calling and that I, you, didn’t like him,” I said with emphasis, surprised by the nonverbal accusation made by both my Mom and now my sister as they listened in disgust.

You could see the blood leave my sister’s face as she realized what I had just done and the embarrassment she immediately felt.

It seemed that the blood that left my sister’s face, filled up my Mom’s face as I could almost see the smoke slowly billow out her ears.

Within an instance, my proud and arrogant demeanor faded, as I stood there and realized the praises I was expecting would likely now come in the form of being grounded…or worse.

I quickly retraced through my mind what I had just done, trying to identify any part of the scenario in which I had done something wrong. My mind was blank. What did I do?

The tongue lashing began. At first it came just from my Mom. Then my sister. I stood there, not knowing what to say. Then, another sister joined in the conversation, wondering what we were arguing about.

I tried to explain myself, mustering all my skills of persuasion, to enlist my sister to my side of the argument.

“I just did Chrissy a huge favor,” I said as I started to explain my side of the story.

Within a few sentences of my explaining, my older sister took sides with Chrissy and my Mom and added to the verbal assault. They were coming at me from all sides. I felt my knees buckle, finally realizing that what I had done was wrong.

My sister picked up the phone and went into the other room to call Fred and apologize. I don’t remember him ever calling back.  All these years later, I don’t remember what punishment I received, if any. It is possible that there was finally a moment of realization that I had truly done what I did, out of the goodness of my heart, not to be mean.

Today, Fred is a devoted body builder. He could easily squish my head like a grape! But, perhaps he wouldn’t recognize me today, now that my voice is finally more masculine and I no longer sound like a bullfrog.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Dancing Spider

Sitting atop her head was a spider…a living, breathing, eight-legged, spider…

 

Growing up in Smallville, USA had some incredible perks. We never had to bother with waiting for street lights to turn from red to green, because after all, we didn’t have any street lights. Everyone in town knew each other. If a parent wondered where their child was, it only took a few phone calls to locate them. Heck, our phone number was only four digits long, when calling within our small community!

I attended a high school of 500 students in four grades. My graduating class had a total of 103 students, not including the two babies attending the ceremonies via accidental pregnancies from a couple of the more adventurous girls/boys in our school. All of us students went to the same elementary school, the same middle school and the same high school, with very few kids moving in our out during our 12 years of local education. We all knew each other, and with the exception of a few, we all pretty much got along.

Yes, there were downsides to Smallville, but for the most part, we didn’t know any different, and life was fun and safe. We knew everyone and we all tried to look out for each other, especially when it came to including all students in events and activities.

Junior prom was a BIG deal. Especially for all the junior girls. It was almost like a right of passage; an opportunity to have the community recognize you and your classmates as moving from childhood to adulthood. Girls anxiously waited invitations extended by their dates, and boys anxiously tried to figure out where they would get the money for dinner, pictures, and an activity.

Like most high school dances, several weeks before the big night, there were always a small handful of girls that had yet to secure a date. But living in Smallville we had a wonderful tradition–all junior girls not asked to the prom were asked by senior boys to attend the festivities. It was never a charity ask, but rather, it was just a fun event the senior boys looked forward to as much as the junior girls.

I was your typical 18-year-old boy. I loved sports and lettered in basketball, track, and football. I was a clean-cut boy with little interest in academics, but did just enough to get by. All my buddies were similar–some smarter than the rest, some better at athletics than the others. But, we all had good hearts and a true desire to make good choices and to help others.

With prom approaching, my buddies and I got together to determine which girls we would ask to the dance and created a plan on how we would ask our dates out.  As I looked at the list of junior girls, I felt a little funny as I saw her name listed. I knew who she was, and from top to bottom, she and I couldn’t be more different.

In the 90s, she was recognized as being a “Goth” with her dyed black hair and pale makeup applied to her face. She wore black almost exclusively. She liked listening to The Cure and The Cult, where I was more of a Bon Jovi and U2 fan. She spend much time in the parking lot with her friends when they should have attended classes. She clearly did not want to conform to Smallville life and likely dreamed of living in a more diverse and larger city.

My boys and I extended our invitations and were ready for an evening of fun and adventure. The plan was to all meet at my friends house where we would have pictures taken, exchange corsages and boutonnieres, and then head to the dance.

The night started off great. We were all having fun, joking around and kidding each other about how dorky we looked all dressed up. My date was definitely more quiet than the rest, making me wonder if she was having a good time or not.

As we all lined up for pictures, the boys stood behind their dates in a line, with the girls in front. From this angle, I had a perfect view of the top of my dates dark black hair.

We were all smiling for the camera as I glanced down and noticed what appeared to be movement. With my focus now shifted from the camera and squarely on my date, I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Sitting atop her head was a spider. Yep, a living, breathing, eight-legged, spider about the size of a quarter. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. I stood there almost paralyzed.

My first thought was to say, “Hey, you have a spider in your hair!” But I didn’t want to embarrass her especially since she likely felt a bit out of place to begin with. I then thought, perhaps I could skillfully flick the spider from her hair, launching it off her head, but not touching her hair or head in the process. But what if I missed and just flicked her in the head. Or even worse, what if I flicked the spider onto another girl. There would be mass hysteria and embarrassment galore. And maybe, just maybe…my mind wondered…was the spider there purposefully? Did she bring it on purpose? I thought that perhaps it could even be her pet.

Standing there almost in a panic, I did the only thing a dumb, young, boy could do…NOTHING. That’s right, I did nothing. I just stood there for the pictures with a grief-stricken forced smile on my face as we continued with the pictures.

When you are an immature 18-year-old boy, you pretty much have a three-track mind. Food. Girls. And sports. Because of this limited intellect, it was only a matter of minutes after pictures were done, that I had forgotten about the spider. We were sipping punch, eating cookies, and having a good old time.

The night progressed and we went to the actual dance. We danced for an hour. Fast dances, slow dances, group dances…we were having a lot of fun. With the dance dearly over, the school stopped the dance to present the names of all the junior students. They called this the promenade. Junior boys would escort junior girls as their names were announced and the audience cheered.

Because we were seniors, my friends and I were relieved of any participation in the promenade, and we all made our way to the balcony to stuff ourselves with goodies (see the three-track mind of a boy two paragraphs above). As we chowed down on cookies, brownies, and soda, we all started discussing our night and I remembered my encounter with the arachnid hours before.

As I started rehearsing to my friends the story of the spider and the quandary I found myself in not knowing what to do, they laughed and laughed. As the laughter died down, my friend Danny’s eyes got wide as saucers as he stared at my chest.

“Steve!” he shouted as he pointed to my shirt.

As I looked down expecting to find a soda spill on my shirt, I witnessed the spider crawl from the front of my shirt, underneath the buttoned placket, and disappeared beneath my shirt.

My heart stopped! I screamed like a little girl! I threw my soda and a cookie and started ripping my jacket off. Bow tie and cummerbund were strewn about. Belt buckle went skidding across the floor. I tried to hurl my pants to the table but they got stuck on one of my laced-up shoes. And buttons popped off my shirt and went flying as I ripped it from my body.

Standing there almost naked, I looked all over. Where was the creature! It felt like I had spiders crawling all over my body and in my hair. I’m fairly sure I’ve never seen an actual one, but I’m pretty sure I had a conniption fit right then and there.

As I got hold of myself, my friends couldn’t stop the laughter. Tears of uncontrollable hilarity streamed down faces. One friend choked on his food and had soda squirting out his nostrils. Another had fallen out of the chair he sat on and remained lying on the ground in merriment. What a night!

I never did find the spider. The dark spider on the dark concrete floor on a poorly lit balcony eluded our watchful eyes. So, I slowly dressed, but not before vigorously shaking out every piece of clothing. I salvaged two buttons on my rented shirt, which made for an awkward conversation when I met up with my date at the conclusion of the promenade.

It was the first and the last time we went out on a date together. As I reminisce about that night, I wonder what happened to the spider. I wonder if my date ever knew it was in her hair. And a small part of me wonders if she got home that night, only to discover that the pet she brought that night had disappeared.

Yes, Smallville, USA was a great place to grow up. Spiders and all.

Did I Remember to Tell You Young Men…

The youth are incredible. Here are some thoughts I had for the young men I served with years ago.

In the academic world, many prestigious universities engage in what they call The Last Lecture. When a professor has taught many years and is set to retire, they allow the professor to put together a final lecture…their last lecture…on any subject they choose. They then present that last lecture at convocation at the university.

I am not dying, and I’m not retiring. But, I’ve taken the liberty to put together My Last Lecture…some thoughts I’d like to share with my readers.

Did I remember to tell you…to pray always? Speak to your Father in Heaven as a friend. Speak to Him often and with meaning. Draw on Him for strength, for guidance, and for peace. He awaits your prayers. He wants to give you answers. Pray always.

Did I remember to tell you…to repent often? Don’t wait when you’ve fallen. Get up, repent, and continue your growth. Don’t let the adversary get hold of you. Cling tight to the iron rod. Keep yourselves unspotted of the things of this world. Take the sacrament weekly with a clear conscience. Be worthy of a temple recommend.

Did I remember to tell you…to go to the temple as often as you can? Make it a goal to attend and keep that goal. The blessings of the temple are incredible. The strength you received there is unmatched. Go to the temple.

Did I remember to tell you…that life is tough? It’s not easy. You will face adversity. Work hard, be strong, and be honest in all you do. Have integrity. Work hard and do your very best in everything you engage in. Even though life is tough, it is so absolutely glorious and wonderful and beautiful. IT IS A GREAT DAY TO BE ALIVE!

Did I remember to tell you…to be kind to others? Love them; care for them; stand up for those that are weak and help them be strong. Speak no evil of your brothers and sisters. Spend your life in the service of others and you will find great happiness.

Did I remember to tell you…to magnify your callings? Accept every calling extended to you. Do your very best to fulfill your callings. It’s through your service that our Heavenly Father will bless His children’s lives. When you serve faithfully in your callings, the person that will be blessed most, is yourself.

Did I remember to tell you…that each of you has been given so very much? You have talents and abilities, skills and aptitude. With those wonderful gifts, much is expected of you. I expect so much of you. Our Heavenly Father expects so much of you. Have your will swallowed up in the will of our Father. By doing so, you’ll will the prize.

Did I remember to tell you…to honor and respect women in everything you do? Protect your sisters, your mother, and most of all your wife—you protect her starting now! Remain worthy of her…now. Without women, we are nothing. Love them. Be gentle and kind.  At all times view them as they are…daughters of our Heavenly Father. Remember that the phrase, “I’m sorry” is a powerful, healing term that will bless you and your marriage.

Did I remember to tell you…to stay away from pornography? Abhor it. Shun it. Do anything and everything possible to keep it from you. It is the vilest and most disgusting thing. Treat it as the most hideous disease because that’s what it is. If you’ve viewed it, repent and do it no more.

Did I remember to tell you…that you have a wonderful Bishop who loves you and cares for you? Let him help you. When you struggle, all he’ll do is love you even more.

Did I remember to tell you…that you hold the power and authority of God? You hold the priesthood to bless other people’s lives. Never neglect your priesthood power. Exercise it. Use it. Protect it. Stand for truth and righteousness. The priesthood is one of the most incredible gifts God has given us as men. Always honor your priesthood. Always be worthy to exercise this great authority with power.

Did I remember to tell you…that today is the day you need to start preparing to serve the Lord. You need to set that as a goal and do everything possible to make sure you serve. You need to study now as if you have already received your mission call. Read Preach My Gospel as part of your daily scripture study. If you’re not worthy today, get worthy. If you are worthy today, stay worthy. The work is hastening. You are needed more now than ever before.

Did I remember to tell you…that you need your own personal testimony? Like the best things in life, it takes effort on our part to earn a personal testimony. Do not wait until to gain your own testimony. The adversary is too strong, too cunning, too knowledgeable for us to stand firm while not adequately prepared. Put on the armor of God. Read the Book of Mormon, study its teachings with great sincerity and intent, and then make the prayer of faith to our Heavenly Father and ask for a personal confirmation of the truthfulness of that book of scripture and of the Church. The answer will come.

Did I remember to tell you…that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God? I know this. I have received a witness that Joseph Smith did in fact see God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ and that they instructed him to organize and restore God’s only true and living gospel back to the earth. I know this is true. I cannot deny it.

Did I remember to tell you…that the Book of Mormon is the true word of God? It was written by prophets of old and was translated by the prophet Joseph Smith. I know it is true. I’ve read it. I’ve prayed about it. I have received confirmation, a confirmation I cannot deny, that it is true scripture. Read the Book of Mormon. Cling to its truths. Study its pages, and your life and your family’s life will be forever blessed.

Did I remember to tell you…the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only true and living Church on the earth today? The Church holds the keys of the priesthood. Within the Church, saving ordinances are performed by God’s authority. It’s true that members of the Church are not perfect, but I testify to you that the Church is perfect. We all make mistakes. But the teachings found in the Church contain the truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Be active members your entire life. If you stray, come back. Cling to the truths found in the Church’s doctrines and teachings.

Did I remember to tell you…that President Russell M. Nelson is a true and living prophet of God; that he is God’s oracle on earth; that he teaches us the will of our Heavenly Father and provides us saving instruction? I know Russell M. Nelson is a true and living prophet. I have received a personal witness that he is in fact God’s prophet.

Did I remember to tell you…that we all have a loving Father in Heaven? He loves each of us. He knows us. He wants us to be happy and to succeed in everything we do. More than anything, He wants us to live accordingly so we might return to His presence. He is there for us always. He hears every prayer. He knows every thought. He loves us more than we’ll ever comprehend. He lives and has a tangible, perfect body.

Did I remember to tell you…that Jesus is the Christ? He paid the price for our sins. He was born in a stable in the most humble of circumstances. He was mocked. He suffered the sins of the world in the Garden of Gethsemane. He was nailed to a cross. I know His sacrifice has freed us all from sin if we only repent. I know that Christ lives. He was resurrected. He appeared to the boy prophet Joseph Smith in answer to humble, sincere prayer. I know that every pain, every sorrow, every sin, every illness, and every unpleasant thing you will encounter on this earth, He has felt in your behalf. He is our judge. I know that it is only in and through Jesus Christ that we can return to live with our Father in Heaven.

Did I remember to tell you…just how very proud I am of each of you? I am so proud of you! It has been such an incredible honor for me to serve beside each of you. I always find each of you doing the right thing, at the right place, at the right time. I’m so proud of the men you’ve become. I’m so proud of the examples you provide me and my family.

Did I remember to tell you…how much I love and care for you? You are my brothers, my sons. You will forever be my sons in my eyes. I love you all.

I testify of these things, in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.

The Little Buckaroo Rodeo

As I stood up, pulled my hat on tight, and brushed the dirt off my pants and shirt, the cheering crowd seemed to wash away my bruised ego and the throbbing pain in my leg.

Growing up in Smallville, USA, we had to make our own fun. Chasing grasshoppers and pulling their legs off (hey, I was 10!…get over it!). Laying on top of train bridges as the train roared underneath us, shaking us half to death. Making forts in trees. Tubing down the river. And locking friends we really didn’t care for in our horse stalls. We were bored most of the time, and looking back, we loved every minute of it all. Life was bliss.

In the community of “good ol’ boys” where everything was, “good enough for me, so it’s good enough for my kids,” one of the fun summer activities was signing sons and daughters up for the Junior Buckaroo Rodeo.

Now let me see if I can paint the picture for you readers. A Junior Bucakroo Rodeo might sound harmless, but I’m here to attest, those eight-, nine- and ten-year old’s brave enough to participate, do in fact, ride wild bucking ponies and cow calves. All this while our parents and community members sit in the fairground stands loving every second of their children being hurled in the air or slammed into the ground, while we desperately tried holding on for dear life for the required eight seconds.

The big event’s promotion poster hung in the local feed store and I was mesmerized looking at the super-hero boy, riding a fierce bucking steed. Needless to say, Lane Frost, I am not. But as a 10 year old, this didn’t matter, and I begged my Dad to let me sign up for the year’s contest. So, my Dad signed me up and I eagerly looked forward to the rodeo.

As the big day arrived, I don’t recall much of anything other than climbing into the shoot and gently settling on the back of an old gray pony with a snarly ragged mane. I had ridden plenty of horses for years leading up to the rodeo, but little did I know what I was in for.

As I grasped the riggin,’—a handhold where the rider grasps a molded piece of leather that is cinched around the horse’s girth—I felt the rush of adrenaline wash over my body, and I called out, “I’m ready!”

With that declaration, the chute gates flew open and old gray wasted no time doing everything possible to get me off his back. Bucking left and right! Jumping! Running! Bounding forward and back! But I held on tight!

When you are on the back of a bucking animal, eight seconds really isn’t eight seconds. I’m pretty sure it is actually eight minutes. Or at least that’s what it felt like as old gray and I made the rounds around the arena.

One, o n e    t   h   o   u   s   a   n   d,
t      w      o ……… o      n     e,            t      h      o      u      s      a      n      d………….
t               h                  r                  e                e…

Finally, the buzzer sounded, letting me know I had ridden long enough and I could get off any time of my liking.

It was at that moment that I realized, old gray didn’t realize the buzzer had sounded and that pony was still doing everything it could to kill me. He wasn’t going to just stop and let me dismount because the buzzer sounded. I also realized that if I was bucked off—whether by my own efforts or old gray’s—I was going to take a fairly nasty tumble down to the dirt arena floor. And all of a sudden, the adrenaline that had pumped through my body vanished and fear took its place.

I was sure it would hurt…and hurt badly. So, I remained on the pony’s back. We circled the arena again and again…and again, and again. On my second pass around, I could hear the announcer holler, “You can get off now son.” And I thought, “yeah right, easy for you to say!”

Knowing I couldn’t ride all night, I had a brilliant idea. As the pony rounded the arena, there was part of the fence that the wild beast would run closely by with every passing lap. My 10-year-old wisdom told me that the next time around the arena, I should jump off the horse onto the fence. There I would hold to the panel with one hand and tip my hat to the crowd with the other…pure cowboy style! I could see in my mind’s eye how the crowd would cheer and I would win the contest. Girls would love me. Boys would want to be me. The plan was fool-proof.

By this time, old gray had stopped bucking for the most part and was satisfied to simply run as fast as he could…around and around and around the arena. As the mounted steed approached the fence line, I leapt into the air!

Old gray’s back and my butt separated from one another, like a rocket leaving the ground. I reached for the fence.

CRASH! BOOM! UGH! (You get the picture!)

As my body hit the fence, I bounced. I bounced off the fence and it shot me out into the arena 20 to 25 feet, like a racquetball hitting a wall with great velocity. I landed face first into the dirt, spilling my hat onto the ground, and filling my mouth, nose and eyes full of dirt and manure. The wild ride was finished. I was exhausted.

At first I just lay there. Almost numb from what I had just endured. Slowly, I stood up, pulled my hat on tight, and brushed the dirt off my pants and shirt. I spit dirt out of my mouth and found it hard to see through the clumps of crud on my face. But, the cheering crowd seemed to wash away the throbbing pain in my leg and softened my bruised ego a bit.

I didn’t win. I don’t think I even placed in the top five. You’d think the judges would give a guy a break!

As I limped off, I looked up and saw my Dad cheering me on. Suddenly, the tough exterior I had exhibited gave way, and the tears welled up in my eyes as the emotions of the event all came to a head. He grabbed me in an embrace as he told me how proud he was of me.

Then he asked, “Are you ready to ride a calf?”

Changing the Heart…January 17, 2018

It is senseless. It is horrific. It is tragic. It demonstrates the worst of humankind. And worst yet, it sets off a chain of blame, finger pointing, and divisiveness throughout this great country.

Humankind sweeps in, digging in its heels, determined to remedy the issues through its own understanding and agenda. When in reality, humankind has again, missed the mark and hypocrisy, once again, rears its ugly head.

In the wake of the latest mass shooting in California, society struggles for understanding; politicians seek advantage; families weep; and the problems remain. It is a gun issue! It is a mental illness issue! It is a policy issue! It is a resource issue! With each accusation, the double standard screams. Unless we are willing to have a honest discussion and admit that this is not a conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, or black or white, straight or gay, problem, our society is bound to continue with such horrific events. Let’s start with two examples.

Guns are killing tens of thousands of people each year. Abortions account for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year. Guns are protected by the Constitution. Abortions are protected by the Supreme Court.

Oh, the hypocrisy from both sides! The use of guns to kill is wrong. The use of abortions to kill is wrong.

Let me be very clear. Banning guns, outlawing abortions, changing laws, and adding laws does not and will not stop the killing. This is not a legislative enigma. If we want this to stop, then we need to change the heart of humankind. Ban guns, and you will still have gun violence and death. Make abortion illegal, and those seeking abortions will continue to find ways to abort their babies. As long as we have laws, they will be broken. Those desiring to hurt, will find ways to do so.

This great nation was founded on God-fearing principles, by God-fearing families. Imperfect families and individuals, yes, but God-fearing nonetheless. Why has this country strayed so far from God? Dismissal of a higher power can alleviate a guilt-ridden mind, but it does not eliminate the evolution of evil. It enhances it.

These issues are not political. They are not solved simply by more laws and restrictions. These problems are not solved by woman and man alone. Until we again become a nation, with hearts and minds turned to God, destruction will continue and even increase.

To stop the violence, we must have a mighty change of heart, that we have no more disposition to do evil, but to do good continually. Then, and only then, will this stop.

Common Sense for Boys

Find your passion and find out how to get paid for it.

Many years ago I found part of this list and loved it so much I kept it and added to it.

  1. Don’t hit girls. Treat them like princesses.
  2. Treat your mother, sisters, and wife like an equal because that is what they are.
  3. Never take her to the movies on the first date.
  4. Go for women you perceive to be “out of your league.” You’ll be surprised.
  5. Always look a person in the eye when you speak to them.
  6. Exercise makes you happy. Run, lift, and play sports.
  7. A small amount of your paycheck should go directly into your savings account every month.
  8. Comb your hair and wear clothes that fit. Don’t look sloppy.
  9. Call your parents every week.
  10. Never wear a clip-on tie. If you can’t tie a regular tie, learn how.
  11. Give a firm handshake.
  12. If you are not confident, fake it. It will come.
  13. You can tell the size of a man by the size of things that bother him.
  14. Be conscience of your body language.
  15. The only reason to ever point a gun at someone is if you intend to shoot them.
  16. Always stand to shake someone’s hand.
  17. Never lend anything you can’t afford to lose.
  18. Ask more than you answer. Everybody likes to talk about themselves.
  19. Purchase high-quality tools, so you only have to buy them once.
  20. Manliness is not only being able to take care of yourself, but others as well.
  21. Go with the decision that will make a good story.
  22. When you walk, look straight ahead, not at your feet.
  23. Nice guys don’t finish last.
  24. Find your passion and find out how to get paid for it.
  25. No matter their job or status in life, everyone deserves your respect.
  26. One of the most important things you can learn is personal responsibility.
  27. Bad things happen; it’s your job to overcome them.
  28. Learn to work without complaining. It won’t speed things up.
  29. Never stop learning.
  30. Don’t change yourself just to meet someone happy unless that someone is you.
  31. If you are the smartest person in the room, you are in the wrong room.
  32. Luck favors the prepared.
  33. Women find confidence sexy.
  34. Do whatever you want to do in life, but be the best at it.
  35. No one is on their deathbed wishing they spent more time at work. Enjoy your life.

 

So Much Good in the World

It’s a great day to be alive!

I recently read an opinion in the Chicago Tribune, where the author complained that it was a terrible year, and then suggested that this coming year could be even worse. As I read the article, I couldn’t help but wonder, what is so bad about the world today?

Many studies have shown that mindset is a very powerful influencer and plays a large part in our happiness or lack thereof. Having gratitude for what we have, allows our minds to feel peace and happiness. Greed and envy destroy our happiness and peace. Continually wanting more, and focusing on what others have or hoping they don’t find success, only fosters feelings of resentment, and displeasure with what we do have.

Treadmills seem synonymous with New Year’s resolutions. No matter how fast we run on a treadmill, we never move further than a few feet, always returning to where we started. Happiness is similar. As human beings, we tend to quickly return to a state of relatively stable happiness even when we experience a significant event in our lives—whether positive or negative. This is referred to as the Hedonic treadmill or adaptation.

In a 1978 study, P. Brickman and D.T. Campbell interviewed 22 lottery winners and 29 paraplegics. Their studies show the lottery winners level of happiness after winning, was roughly the same as it was before they won. Likewise, the paraplegics interviewed, showed either their happiness level had returned to a similar state experienced before their accident, or that the interviewees expected that it would return to a normal state at a future date. Whether negative or positive, people will gradually revert back to a level of happiness, or unhappiness to which they are used to.

In a recent conversation with a friend who had traveled to several countries in the African continent, he commented on how unbelievably poor the people are. He said, “They have nothing! Absolutely nothing at all. They don’t have clothes to wear or food to eat. They don’t have homes.”

After pausing briefly, his voice lowered almost to a whisper and he continued, “But I have never seen a happier people in all the world. They are so joyful, full of love, and full of peace.”

Four years ago, I suffered a tragic accident that left my hand mangled, broken in ten places and my pinky finger almost completely severed. After the initial surgery and treatment, I learned from other doctors that the procedures performed on my hand were completed incorrectly and left my hand with even further damage. As a result, I had to endure four more surgeries over 12 months and engage in nine months of physical therapy. Medical bills and my frustrations seemed to race to see which could grow the fastest.

One evening in a fit of frustration, I lashed out, cursing the inadequate doctor, and voiced how unfair it was that we had to pay so much in medical-care expenses. My wife sat patiently listening, understanding my emotional outbreak. After a few moments of silence, she softly spoke, “Well, you have two options; justifiably, you can choose to be frustrated, to hold ill feelings, and seek recompense. Or, you can be grateful.”

“Grateful? Are you serious,” I said. She continued, “Yes, you can be grateful that we have the means to pay for these medical bills. You can be grateful that you still have a fully functional hand. It’s your choice.”

We all choose how we respond to life. Each of us is in control of our response to any situation. Nobody makes us mad. We allow ourselves to become mad. Nobody makes us happy. We choose to be happy.

Yesterday I lost a call on my mobile phone. I could have been mad, wondering why my service provider dropped the call. Or, I could choose to be amazed at the technology I hold in the palm of my hand. The ability to call anywhere in the world. The ability to access the libraries of the world at a simple touch of my finger.

During peak hours of the day, my internet service is slow, taking much longer times to access desired information. I can express my frustration at a task taking a few minutes longer than normal. I can feel envy toward the neighbor who has better Internet service. Or, I can be grateful to have a computer. I can be grateful for the Internet and the volumes of information available to consume. I can be grateful that I don’t need to visit the local library and navigate the Dewey Decimal System (I just revealed my age) to try and find the desired information.

Sitting in traffic is so frustrating. Other drivers make stupid mistakes. Blinkers aren’t used appropriately. Drivers in the fast lane driving slowly. We all experience this. As a result, I can extend my arm out the window and provide a one-fingered salute, expressed with some choice, well-crafted words. Or, I can be grateful for the use of a vehicle. Grateful I am not traveling by horse and buggy. I can allow others to pass in front of me. I can forgive and forget.

I hate my job…well, really I don’t. But so many people do.  A disgruntled employee can find fault in their co-workers. They can hold a grudge toward their supervisor. They can work each day with a negative attitude. Or, they can be grateful they are blessed to earn a paycheck. Grateful they have the chance to make a difference. Grateful they live in a community where educational and employment opportunities abound.

Have you been to the airport lately? What is the deal with those TSA lines? Or what about the inexperienced flyer in front of you in the security line, fumbling with their shoes, belt and bags. Certainly, a heavy sigh of disgust is justified and if eye contact is made, a rolling of the eyes are certainly appropriate. Or, you can be grateful for the opportunity to fly in the air, traveling to places across the country and world in a matter of hours. Grateful airline travel is relatively safe and affordable.

Nuisances are everywhere. In a world where we have so much, it is easy to overlook what we have and focus only on what we wish we had.

Never before has humankind had so much to be grateful. Hedonic adaption skews our views and can affect our happiness…if we choose to let it do so. It is our choice.

Yes, it is a great day to be alive. Life is wonderful. Life is good. Life is grand. Is life difficult? Sure it is.  Do we face problems? Of course we do. Is life fair? No, it is not. But each of us has the power within to choose how we react to life. It is our choice to find happiness, joy and peace, or to allow despair, anger, and sadness fill our lives. What is your choice?

Things I know That are True

Many years ago, I sat on an airplane, like I frequently do, and while I was there, my thoughts turned to my beautiful family, and my children specifically. If my children never saw me again, what would they remember about their dad?

Did I teach them everything I want them to know? Would they know what I stood for, what I believed, and what I know. If I had one last conversation with them, what would I want to say? What would I want them to know?

This sobering thought prompted me to pull out my computer. As I opened a new document, I typed, “Things I Know that are True.”

  1. God is real and He lives.
  2. Jesus is the Christ and He lives.
  3. The adversary is real.
  4. Jesus Christ is the son of God. He is our Savior, Redeemer, Judge and Advocate.
  5. God knows more than I do. He knows what’s best for me and my family.
  6. Things happen according to God’s timeline not man’s.
  7. Prayer is a dialogue not just children talking to a parent with no response. God listens to us and He desires us to listen to Him. He answers our prayers.
  8. Truth is eternal. Truth is truth, no matter what the world says.
  9. True happiness isn’t achieved in temporal and worldly achievements, items obtained, or places you reside; true happiness is obtained in living righteously, having an eternal perspective, loving and caring for your family, helping others, and overcoming challenges and adversity.
  10. The division between good and bad continues to grow daily.
  11. Forgiving is easier and less painful than holding animosity.
  12. Decisions get harder the older you get.
  13. People can change.
  14. Life becomes what you make of it.
  15. Happiness is a decision not a result.
  16. Love is a verb. It’s something you do more than something you feel.
  17. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Good things happen to good people. Bad things happen to bad people. The way a person handles the good and the bad define their character.
  18. There is so much good in the world, even among all the absolute terrible wickedness.
  19. When spoken sincerely, there are few words in the English language as powerful as the phrase, “I’m sorry.”
  20. Parenting is hard while being your child’s friend is easy. The world needs more parents of children and fewer parent friends.
  21. Rarely do things happen quickly. Habits and patterns are learned over time, not immediately.
  22. It takes years and years to gain trust, love, and respect; it takes a brief moment to loose it.
  23. It is difficult to humble yourself but when you do, growth and happiness occur.
  24. A weekly date between a husband and wife is a crucial element to a happy marriage.
  25. Doing what you enjoy is more important than doing what pays you the most money.
  26. You don’t have to be the smartest person to succeed but you must be willing to work extremely hard to succeed.
  27. Respect is earned, it’s not just given.
  28. To really succeed, you have to fail along the way. When you fail, you must have a greater resolve and determination to find solutions to overcome the failure.
  29. One alone cannot accomplish what many can do if they work together.
  30. Learning should be a life-long goal. Knowledge is priceless.
  31. If you disagree with what is being said, you have an obligation to voice your opinion.
  32. Standing for what you know is true is difficult but is always right.
  33. We create our own opportunities.
  34. Taking risks is healthy.