Monday, January 23, 2017

At a loss as to how to help others deal with a loss

I have been looking out the window at the dismal weather and thinking of how it matches part of what I have been feeling. The clouds have been low enough to obscure the mountains; the skies have been grey all day.

Right now I am watching the second snowstorm of the day as voluminous flakes get pushed around by windy bluster on their way to the ground. I will have to do more snow clearing. I'm all for being happy about having enough water stored in the mountains for the dry months. But this month has been brutal as far as snow removal goes. It's like the Energizer bunny that keeps going and going.

That's the least of issues right now. The pall that has continually pushed its way into my consciousness throughout the day involves the death of my neighbor and friend. Young guy in his early 30s. Good guy. Five kids under 12. He was away on business when he didn't show up for work. They found him dead in his hotel bed. No indications of cause of death. The family will have to wait until an autopsy is done before the body can be shipped back home.

I wasn't sure what to think yesterday afternoon when two police vehicles parked next to our home. The two officers went into my neighbor's home. Some time later they returned to their vehicles and drove away. Before long other cars started parking near our home. A while later, the Relief Society president of our LDS ward stopped by and gave us the harsh news. My wife and daughter took some food over while I went to help my elderly mom.

On a positive note, my neighbor's mother was at the house when the news came. She had come from out of state, prepared to watch the kids for a few days while her son and daughter-in-law went on an anniversary trip after he returned from his business trip. Sadly, that anniversary trip will never happen. This lady has lost a son, but at least she's there in her daughter-in-law's time of need. Her husband, also a friend of mine, is on his way here from out of state to grapple with the loss of his son.

All day long I have watched a constant stream of visitors ply my neighbor's home. I haven't been over there. I am willing to mourn with those that mourn (Mosiah 18:9), but what can I do? How do I even begin to relate to this young widow? I can imagine that almost anything I might say would seem trite. So I've been mourning with those that mourn, but separately.

I firmly believe that the scriptural injunctions to love our neighbor as much as we love ourselves (Luke 10:27) and to visit the fatherless and the widows in their afflictions (James 1:27) are more than just doctrinal fluff. They are incumbent on anyone that assays to be a disciple of Christ.

So, what to do? I could clear snow from my neighbor's driveway. But somebody already beat me to it. The women in the community are handling food. I'm not aware of any handyman needs at my neighbor's house. Which is good, because I'm not a very handy guy in that respect. I can write you a computer program or build you a database, though.

I'm kind of at a loss. I want to do something. I want to let this family know that I feel their pain in some minor way without coming across as crass. Maybe my chance will come in the days and years that follow the funeral, after family members return home and life returns to normal for the rest of us. I am absolutely certain that the new normal for my widowed neighbor and her children will require a lot of outside help.

But if I'm too timid to do something right now, what makes me think that I won't find an excuse to shy away from it then? Maybe I just need to let them know that I care. If I'm sincere in my soul, I guess I shouldn't care if it sounds trite.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Suicide Comes Knocking

A long time has gone by since I last wrote. It's not that life has been so uneventful that there's been nothing to write about. So much has happened that writing on this blog has been pushed far to the back burner.

After posting at Thanksgiving time about my children that are "broken vessels," we embarked on a bit of adventure with our teen son that has Asperger Syndrome.

Technically they don't call it Asperger Syndrome anymore. Rather, it is one of many Autism spectrum disorders. One psychologist told us the technical term, but it was about 17 words long, so I don't remember what it was. I often call it, "The Autism spectrum disorder formerly known as Asperger Syndrome" to lampoon the current semantic silliness. Whatever.

It had been no secret that things were progressing poorly for our son, especially in the school department. Simple tasks he used to be able to do eluded him. He used to enjoy spending hours reading rather deep fantasy novels that were far beyond the comprehension level of most of his peers. But it had been months since he had done any serious reading. We were working with professionals. We had tried many interventions but nothing seemed to work well.

Then one night my wife discovered our son curled up on the basement floor in his underwear shaking. He wasn't having a seizure. But it was clear he was extremely distraught. I think past generations might have called this kind of experience having a mental or a nervous breakdown.

After the application of a great deal of motherly love, our son finally calmed to the point that he could say that he simply couldn't go on. He had determined that he basically had no other option than to end his life. He had researched and developed a viable plan for accomplishing his design. Fortunately the needed supplies eluded him in the state he was in, so he was unable to carry out his plan.

We called the suicide crisis hotline.

Our son was actually pleased when we took him to a mental health facility for in-patient treatment. He had been without hope but the prospect of intensive treatment gave him a glimmer of hope to hold onto.

We knew all along that it wasn't necessarily his Autism condition that was the issue. It was the major depression and general anxiety conditions that are entwined with his Autism that were at play here.

The professionals at the care facility were great. Our son was soon involved in a fairly regimented program that limited outside contact to specified individuals and time periods. Patients worked through a progression plan. The program helped a lot. We visited as frequently as we were able. We also participated in family therapy sessions that were very helpful.

Experts told us that treatments that had been working for our son began to fail because he began hitting teen milestones. With mid-teen years come opportunities like driving, dating, jobs, more responsibility, thinking about adult life in the near future, etc. While most neurotypical kids handle these excitements and stresses with some degree of success, all of this simply overwhelmed our neurodiverse son. It wasn't that we pressured him to do all of these things; he simply felt social pressure washing over him like the waves of the sea wash over a weary swimmer.

Eventually our son was released from the in-patient program. He has been working with a therapist multiple times weekly since then. Some things still aren't great. But his self destructive tendencies have been substantially reduced. We are still working through issues and will likely continue to do so for some time to come.

Although we have decent medical insurance, we still must bear a sizable chunk of the bills associated with our son's care. This kind of thing brings its own stresses to the family. But it's not unlike what people that grapple with serious medical issues deal with every day. When we consider what might have happened, our financial burden seems like a small trade. What's a life worth? Besides, we can manage this over time. We are blessed enough that it's not like families whose entire living gets gobbled up by medical bills.

If you ever have a concern that someone you know might be at risk for imminent suicide, call your local suicide hotline. Don't know the number? Just Google for it. You could very well save a life.

Our son has so much potential and so much to live for. I'm deeply grateful that he has been spared at this time. I know that he will still require a lot of intervention over time to help him maintain balance. But I am grateful to be involved in this work rather than in grieving for his loss.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Grateful for My Broken Vessels

Until a few years ago I was relatively unfamiliar with mental illness issues. I knew of people, including extended family members that had mental health problems. But none of these touched me closely. Like most people, I developed opinions that were based in faulty information and media tidbits.

Little did I know that some of my children grappled with mental illness. As their issues became more clear I was forced to become more educated about the mental illnesses that impact our family.

I grew up in an era when mental illness carried a strong stigma. It seemed to mainly be seen as a moral failing and was regarded in a similar light as an alcoholic that got liver disease or a smoker that got lung cancer. The level of compassion required was less than was customary for someone that developed an apparently undeserved health problem. Mental illness was seen as a lack of sufficient fortitude.

Besides, mental illness is scary because it is poorly understood. Many harbor fears of the mentally ill because they don't know how to act around them. The rare and highly publicized cases where a mentally ill person acts out in violent ways reinforce the idea of crazy people as depraved monsters.

Fortunately, I think that society is making some progress in understanding mental illness. In October 2013 Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the LDS Church's Quorum of the Twelve Apostles gave a landmark speech titled Like a Broken Vessel, a term taken from Psalm 31:12. He urged compassion, understanding, and professional treatment, in addition to spiritual approaches.

A few months ago the Church released a video about mental illness that includes portions of an interview with Elder Holland. The video is nearly 12 minutes long, but it's worth watching.


The Church has also released the mentalhealth.lds.org website that includes resources to aid in understanding and dealing with mental health issues. The site includes videos of people that have mental illness telling their own stories. These people expose their own vulnerabilities in very personal and poignant ways in the hope that they can help someone else.

One of our adult sons has had depression his entire life, although, we didn't grasp that fact until a few years ago. He has also had episodes of major anxiety. After working regularly with psychologists for several years, his therapist judged that it was time to augment with psychiatric treatment. Getting our son into a local psychiatrist that takes his insurance has been nightmarishly difficult. Meanwhile, depression takes its toll, much like an inadequately treated cancer.

It took years for us to understand that another son (now a teen) has Asperger Syndrome, an Autism spectrum disorder. This is coupled with major depression and general anxiety, which literally measures off the charts in some aspects. While he's very smart, his ability to handle academic tasks (always a challenge) has significantly declined over the past year, resulting in a constant state of scholastic crisis.

Each of these sons regularly experiences clinical levels of hopelessness, helplessness, self-doubt, self-loathing, fear of the future, and everything else that goes with their respective conditions. Telling them to cheer up or to have more hope is like telling someone with Type I Diabetes to stop having Diabetes. Their conditions are complex so solutions aren't simple.

Yet another son developed chronic pain syndrome about nine years ago following a bout with walking pneumonia. Severe pain is his constant companion. It has seriously impacted his life. Strong prescription painkillers don't help much, so he only uses them about twice per week just to take the edge off when he needs to concentrate. (He's finishing a degree in nuclear physics.)

Doctors haven't helped much either. A while ago our son re-posted something that another chronic pain sufferer wrote:
going to the doctor when you’re chronically ill is weird. 
It’s like imagine everything in your house is on fire, and you’re standing there and the fire department come in like, describe the fire to me and maybe we can find what caused it and put it out. 
and you can’t just say everything so you’re like… well the fire in the curtain is the biggest but the fire in the photo albums might be doing the most damage
also the fire in the couch is really inconvenient 
occasionally the fire guy is like, well your tv is on fire so it might be electronic-fireitus but that would cause other things like fire in the dvd player 
and you’re like, oh yes. that’s been on fire for years. I forgot to mention it because it’s always been a relatively small fire. It’s right next to the bookshelf which has much more fire. 
and then the fire guy is like, oh. I wouldn’t worry about that. book shelf fire just happens sometimes.
From what we've garnered from medical professionals and myriad resources (of variable quality) on the internet, our son's chronic pain is really a mental health problem. (i.e. "It's all in your head, boy.") He has some indicators that could cause minor pain at the sites where he experiences pain, but nothing that would cause major pain. Somehow his brain picks up the signals and amplifies them. The pain is very real; it's not imaginary. Finding anything that really helps has been elusive.

Our children's various mental health issues impose on the family in a variety of ways. Their challenges are inconvenient and expensive. They require time, focus, and energy that could be put to other uses. All of us would rather not have to deal with these problems.

It's easy to think like that. But one recent evening my wife and I thought back to our first few married years. We were childless and weren't sure we could have children. For reasons I won't go into here, adoption was not a realistic possibility for us. After years of fasting, praying, and seeking medical help, I had a spiritual experience that let me know that we would have four sons and a daughter. My wife eventually felt the same way.

Although we moved forward in faith, our children didn't come easily. Each child came only after much fasting, prayer, medical help, and following proven patterns for achieving pregnancy. We immediately loved each unique child born to us. And although each has brought us a fair share of challenges, we still deeply love each child and willingly accept the package that comes with each.

Some of our children may be "like a broken vessel" at times, but we still see each child as a cherished gift from God; a gift for which we are now and will forever be eternally grateful.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Flush Failure

I recently started exploring the idea that my kids might be budding water conservationists. The basis for this concept is the frequency with which they fail to flush the toilet following its use. I mean, you feel the urge, walk into an unoccupied bathroom, lift the lid of the porcelain throne, and BAM! Log jam right in front of your face!

It didn’t take long for me to reject my initial hypothesis that my kids were mainly trying to save water when they didn’t flush. This became apparent from the long showers that they regularly take. We even installed a digital clock and a separate timer in the downstairs shower. But this hasn’t seemed to reduce shower length.

If my kids really were interested in saving water they’d do what water saving extremists do. These people turn on the water long enough to get wet. Then they stand there shivering wet and naked while they lather up. Then they turn on the water long enough to rinse off, and they’re done. No luxuriating in the pleasantly warm water splashing down from above for these masochists. It’s hard for me to see the value in this practice, since only 4% of all water use in Utah occurs inside homes. If we all did what these self-torturers do the statistical reduction in water usage would be practically zero.

Since my kids aren’t trying to save water, I had to come up with a different hypothesis. Flush toilets have only been common for a few generations now. For millennia prior to that humans had nothing to flush. Every spring Ma would walk into the house after visiting the shanty out back and say, “Pa, it’s time to dig a new hole and move the outhouse. I’m afraid the pile is about to touch my behind.”

It seems like every time I read something about human behavior, there’s some muckety-muck blathering on about how we do thus-and-such because we were initially grunting hunters and gatherers, and that evolution hasn’t caught up to modernity. Thus, we’re not well evolved to sit at desks, drink milk, eat grain (as in the form of donuts), recognize reality, sit on toilets, etc.

Quite frankly, I think that most of these people are full of crap. They’re just making up stuff that can’t be tested in any real way, just to make themselves look all smarty pants. I think the evidence shows that humans are far more adaptable than these self-important gurus of guessed-at-and-mostly-made-up prehistory and human development suggest.

But if they are right, maybe the development of the flush toilet occurred such a short time ago on the evolutionary scale that my children simply haven’t evolved enough to press down that little lever on the side of the toilet tank with the kind of regularity that I think it ought to happen. But if that’s the case, how in the world are they able to operate their smart phones? Those devices seem somewhat more complex than a toilet handle.

Of course, there could be other mechanisms at play that I haven’t yet explored. Take for example the fact that, despite how seldom the other people living in my house flush the toilet after using it, the frequency with which they find it absolutely necessary to do so spikes dramatically when I am in the shower. When that happens I try to remind myself as I react to the rapidly changing water temperature (by screaming like a little girl) that I should be grateful that someone has actually flushed a toilet.

One economist says that toilets are the greatest life saving invention of all time. Professor Toilet says that “the advent of the toilet has saved more lives … than seat belts, vaccinations or any medical device….” So the next time you feel compelled to grovel at the feet of some great doctor for preserving life, maybe you should praise a plumber instead.

As I have pondered a possible solution to the lack of appropriate toilet flushing in our home, I have considered several solutions. On a recent trip to the commode aisle of a hardware store, I noted that it was possible to buy a see-through toilet seat. This would allow people to see whether the bowl had been flushed even after closing the lid. But somehow I doubt this would help someone who seems to have a cognitive disconnect between, “Hey, I just finished using the toilet” and “Maybe I should push that little lever on the tank.”

We are all familiar nowadays with self flushing toilets that use a sensor to determine when it’s time to flush. But those are mostly made for commercial grade systems that are far more expensive than most of us are willing to spend on our home toilets. Besides, have you ever been seated on one of those things when it suddenly decides to automatically flush? Let’s just say that I hope they don’t model self-driving cars on that technology.

My wife and I are at the point where we can envision a future of being empty nesters down the road a few years. I often hear people say that after your kids are gone you’ll miss the dumb things they used to do. I’m sure that’s true. But somehow I doubt that flush failure will be among those endearing charms.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Chrome was crashing every time I signed in — Here's how I fixed it

I have used Google Chrome as my main browser for a number of years. I usually have one or two other browsers on that machines I use. One of my favorites is Waterfox, which is a pure 64-bit version of Firefox.

One of the things that I like most about Chrome is probably the main reason many privacy and security advocates avoid it. When you sign in with your Google account, you get the same Chrome experience no matter what machine you are using. While you can choose which features to synchronize via advanced settings (including synchronizing nothing), the default is to synchronize everything. Your browsing history, saved data, bookmarks, etc. are all available, regardless of which machine you are using.

After using Chrome relatively trouble free for years, I ran into a problem a couple of months ago where Chrome threw an error each time I tried to access a secure site. I spent a lot of time researching the SSL error. Many potential solutions are available, each with people reporting that the method had fixed the problem for them. Alas, none of them worked for me, except for the suggestion to install Chrome Canary, the perpetually experimental version of Chrome, instead.

After installing Chrome Canary, I once again had a placid coexistence with the browser until a few days ago. Suddenly Chrome began crashing shortly after starting up. I again spent a great deal of time researching the problem and trying a variety of solutions, none of which worked for me.

It seems like the main culprit for this kind of problem is a corrupt extension that has been added to Chrome. The general suggestion is to disable your extensions one by one until Chrome works. But how do you disable an extension in Chrome when you can't keep Chrome open for more than a few seconds?

I finally determined to take the nuclear approach, which was to uninstall Chrome, deleting all of the browsing data. In Windows 10 you do that by going to Settings->System->Apps & Features->Google Chrome and clicking the Uninstall button. Answer Yes when asked if you want to make the changes. Then an uninstall dialog box will appear. Check the "Also delete your browsing data" option and click Uninstall.

But reinstalling Chrome at this point produced the same problem for me. No amount of uninstalling, rebooting, and reinstalling helped. (I tried it about 10 times.) I finally found an obscure thread where a guy said that uninstalling and deleting all browsing data does not completely remove Chrome data. The extensions are still on your machine. They have to be removed from User Data.

It turns out that this presented a challenge. I opened Windows Explorer, typed in %LocalAppData%\Google, as directed. But when I tired to delete the Chrome directory, many subfolders and files remained. When I tried deleting any of them I was told I didn't have permissions to perform that action. What was more frustrating was that it said that I needed permission from ... me, the user that was currently logged in. By going to properties on any of these folders I could see that I owned them and that I had full rights. So why couldn't I delete the files? It didn't make sense.

It took a while to figure this out. After trying to fix permissions on all subdirectories simultaneously didn't work, I ended up going to the remaining folders one by one and performing the following actions:
  • Right click to bring up the context menu.
  • Properties->Security tab->Advanced button.
  • In the Advanced Security Settings window I could see three different listings for me (my user) in the Permission entries list. Two of them showed Allow in the Type column, but one showed Deny in that column.
  • Double-click on the Deny record to open the Permission Entry window for the folder/file.
  • Click on the Type drop down and select Deny. The funny thing was that this record had full Allow permission but also had every box checked under the Deny type.
  • Click on Show Advanced Permissions to expand permissions list.
  • Uncheck all Deny permissions.
  • OK to close Permission Entry window.
  • OK to close Advanced Security Settings window.
  • OK to close Properties.
  • Delete folder.
  • Answer yes to prompt.
Once all folders under Chrome had been successfully deleted I then emptied the recycle bin. On this site I found a reference saying, "Open the Registry Editor by pressing the Windows Key + R type regedit and click OK. Locate; HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Google and delete it by right clicking it and selecting delete."

To be safe, I opened Chrome on a different computer, signed into my account, went to Settings and then Extensions, and disabled all extensions by unchecking the check boxes (see Manage Extensions). I read on one feed that the Trusteer Rapport extension had caused some problems. I followed the instructions and uninstalled the Trusteer Rapport software from my machine, knowing that it would otherwise automatically install and enable the related extension upon reinstalling Chrome.

After rebooting, I again installed Chrome. I signed in and held my breath. I waited one minute. Two minutes. Five minutes. Nothing happened. Chrome just sat there without shutting down. I went to Settings and then Extensions and checked the various checkboxes to re-enable my extensions. I shut down and reopened Chrome and waited. Nothing.

Then I started using Chrome as usual. Everything worked fine. And Chrome has worked well since then.

If your Chrome browser is crashing seconds after you open it, you might consider following the steps I followed to fix this frustrating problem. I can't guarantee that it will work for you as it did for me. But it's worth a try.

Friday, October 07, 2016

LDS Scouting: Maybe it's not really mediocre; just different

I felt like a fly on the wall as I sat on the back row of a room where members of LDS stake presidencies and leaders of a BSA district were seated around a large table. It seemed almost comical to me that without assigned seating, the Scouting leaders ended up in one contiguous group with the church leaders in another. From the start it felt somewhat like an us-vs-them situation.

For the most part, the group worked collaboratively and effectively on a variety of issues. But I sensed a somewhat adversarial undertone that didn't start with that meeting. I have seen it often in interactions between representatives of the LDS Church and the BSA that I have witnessed throughout my adult life.

While working on a particular issue, members of both parties voiced frustrations. These sentiments weren't especially aimed at members of the other group, but it was plain to see that the two groups had fundamental differences in how they viewed the issues.

While many different things were said, I think they can all be effectively boiled down to the following exchange:
Churchmen: The BSA program is impossible to fully implement in our Church units.
Scouters: It would be far easier if people holding Scouting callings would just follow the program that has been prepared instead of trying to do their own thing.
Churchmen: The program is so complex that it requires professional level training. That's not realistic for most laymen. Many parts of the program aren't relevant to our youth today.
Scouters: That's because you aren't doing it right.
This is a gross simplification. But it's fairly representative of the same attitudes that I have seen on display for decades.

I want to stress that both groups of people were earnest and were deeply interested in helping young men. Many of the Scouters present had held leadership positions in the Church. Many of the church leaders present had been Philmont and Wood Badge trained in Scouting and felt like they were doing their level best to implement the Scouting program. But both groups felt frustrated that they were falling short of what they should be accomplishing.

The meeting was overseen by a stake president who had only recently been assigned to lead the group. He came across as a sage, demonstrating equanimity and deep interest throughout the meeting. He did an excellent job of summarizing the sentiments expressed and said that he needed to ponder and pray about some of the issues.

Several times during the meeting, this stake president reminded the group that the LDS Church's main purpose in sponsoring Scouting is to bring young men to Christ and to fulfill the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood. Since this aim differs to one degree or another from the aims of other Scouting sponsors, it should not be surprising that implementation of Scouting in LDS units differs from the way other groups implement the program.

Other thoughts expressed by the stake president included:
  • Local church leaders obviously feel that the Scouting program is too complex. Referring to a remark by another stake leader, who had said that his stake simply opted out of Varsity Scouting and Venturing, the stake president said that the choice should never be between perfection and not doing the program at all. Nor is it right to feel perpetual guilt about falling short of the ideal (which seemed to be the approach taken by most church leaders present). Rather, simplification is the answer.
  • The Church sponsors the BSA, not the other way around. The Church has ensured that the BSA offers broad flexibility in program implementation to meet the needs of the sponsor. Although the stake president didn't say it out loud, I sensed a gentle suggestion that died-in-the-wool Scouters should back off from their accusations of "not doing it right" when local leaders customize their program approaches.
  • While we will always speak about and desire the ideal, it is imperative to deal with realities. The reality is that all the haranguing in the world isn't going to get local Church members that are called to Scouting positions to become fully trained or to implement the program in an ideal fashion. A few will. But experience shows that most will not. After all, they have lives to live. (See my 10/2007 and 6/2009 posts on mediocre LDS Scouting.)
  • With Church aims in mind, and given the reality of limited resources, it is imperative to evaluate what Scouting has to offer and to implement those features that are most likely to achieve Church goals. Scouting has developed a strong culture with many traditions. Traditions that strongly support Church aims should be employed; others should receive diminished emphasis or should be dropped.
I was in attendance at the meeting as an Order of the Arrow adviser. It became clear during the meeting that few of those present had any understanding of what the OA was useful for. They all seemed to have a general understanding that it is a service organization. But so what? Church youth do service projects all the time. And after all, isn't that whole Native American re-enactment thing kind of, you know, not cool nowadays? And how does anybody get into that organization anyway? Mind you, some of the men saying these things had been members of the OA as youth.

In other words, it quickly became clear to me that the OA is likely one of those Scouting traditions that doesn't make the cut in the minds of local LDS Church leaders. I kind of have a love-hate relationship with my position anyway. I'd have more free time and less stress if I didn't have to do it. But I do it because of the good the OA did for me when I was a youth, in the hope that it might help another young man trying to find his way in life.

As the meeting concluded, I got the distinct feeling that pretty much everyone in the room was glad it was over. Since I have spent years hanging out with strong Scouters, I know that the "the Church is doing Scouting wrong" sentiment is alive and well among that group. I implore my fellow Scouters to follow President Uchtdorf's advice when it comes to judging others: "Stop it!" It's not helpful, it doesn't improve the Scouting program, and most significantly, it doesn't improve boys. The divine attribute of mercy is much more likely to further these goals.

Most of the church leaders present are doing their best. But Scouting isn't their only focus. Each has many other responsibilities. Most really are trying. And most have also been doing so under the constant weight of guilt that Scouting in their stakes isn't up to snuff. I would admonish these brethren to follow the counsel of the stake president provided at that meeting. Simplify. Do what you can and do it joyfully without guilt. Also realize that you need strong Scouters to support the program. Although they may bug you at times and you might not think you need them, you actually can't run much of a Scouting program without them.

For better or for worse (depending on your viewpoint), the LDS Church and the BSA are partnering for the foreseeable future. Young Men General President Stephen W. Owen recently told a group that the Church is "all in" when it comes to Scouting. Local Church leaders and Scouters need to work collaboratively to help LDS young men come to Christ, achieve the purposes of the Aaronic Priesthood, and achieve the character building aims of Scouting. Balkanizing into different camps won't do that. Loving collaboration will. Let's get to it.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

That one time I fixed my computer instead of throwing it away

Back in the day I was quite adept at modifying our various home computer configurations. Technology was advancing rapidly. And while hardware prices were declining, a new computer was still a major purchase. So it made sense to upgrade components to keep the hardware functional for as long as possible.

Before 1993 our family had a couple of hand-me-down computers. We bought our first whole new system in 1993 for about $3,300. Per this inflation calculator, that amounts to about $5,460 in 2015 dollars. That's kind of mind boggling. Hardly anyone would consider paying even $1,500 nowadays ($906 in 1993 dollars) for a general use home computer. Earlier this year we paid $430 for a refurbished tower (we already had monitor, keyboard, mouse, etc.) that is a great machine.

As we slid from large clunky 1993 home computers to today's sleek models, at some point we hit a break point where chunking money into upgrades quit making much sense for most models. Our family obtained more computers and I found myself opening up the hardware less and less.

This same process has occurred with most major appliances. People complain that we are a throwaway society nowadays. Previous generations fixed stuff. But nowadays we throw it away and get something new. You can't even find people to repair most of this stuff. Why? Because technology is advancing so rapidly and the cost of new items is such that it often makes little economic sense to repair old models.

According to H&R Block, you can expect your washing machine and dryer to last for about 10-13 years.  My parents had the same washer and dryer for well over 20 years. But Dad was forever fixing those things. I'm not a handy guy. When our last dryer died I did some quick research on the cost of repairing the bad parts. The parts were expensive and would take time to acquire. Instead, we had a new dryer in our laundry room that same evening for not much more than the repair would have cost.

About four years ago I was in the market for a new computer. I wanted a decent machine because I sometimes worked from home and I also did some video editing for fun. Windows 8 was about to be released and it already had fairly unfavorable reviews. Many computer manufacturers were offering reduced prices on computer models that had Windows 7 installed.

The setup of my office desk doesn't lend itself well to tower systems. Nor do I like having a bunch of exposed cords. I had previously had a large laptop and an all-in-one machine in that spot. I liked many things about the all-in-one, despite the fact that the Dell model I had owned had many problems from day one. Dell even replaced it twice. Although it was less than two years old, I celebrated the day it died for real.

While searching for a new computer I found a Lenovo IdeaCentre B540P all-in-one. The specs on the i7 model with Windows 7 were great and the price was fantastic. Although I would have preferred a machine that could do higher resolution, this machine seemed like the best value at the time. I didn't (and still don't) care about the touch screen. It seems kind of silly for a desktop computer.

I loved my new Lenovo all-in-one. Unlike my Dell all-in-one, the Lenovo actually worked. It was quiet and it did everything I wanted it to do without a fuss. It continued to work just fine until one day about a year ago when the normally very quiet fan suddenly wasn't so quiet. A slight whining sound appeared and it gradually got worse over time.

I used compressed air to blow dust out of the fan, but I was reluctant to actually dig into the computer. Opening up an all-in-one is more like getting into the guts of a laptop than opening up a roomy tower case. So I let it go. In fact, the sound got better for a few weeks. Right before it got worse.

One day my wife told me to go listen to my computer, which had sounded reasonable an hour earlier. The fan was making a horrible racket. I shut the computer down. Unable to put it off any longer, I opened the thing up and dug into it. Fortunately, Lenovo has excellent online maintenance manuals that guided my activity.

I knew that the back cover came off with no tools. The next cover required removing only five screws, but the slide-then-hinge motion took a bit of work. Then the next cover had 16 screws. Finally, the dual fan had four screws and two electrical connectors.

I quickly figured out which half of the dual fan was faulty. There was no way to fix it. No problem, I figured I'd just buy a new one. But it cost $122 from Lenovo. Too much. After searching the internet, I discovered that there were various sub-models of the same fan.

It turns out that the particular sub-model I needed was scarce. I could get a used one from England on eBay. Nah, I already had a used one. I found a few on sketchy sites that listed the fan for around $50, but it was impossible to tell whether they had any in stock. I finally found a new one in China for $25 from PCHub.com. But shipping was expensive, ranging from $20 for up to 40 days to $36 for 3-7 days.

Seeing as my computer was nonfunctional without a good fan, I opted for the rapid shipping. I soon had an email back from PCHub with a tracking number for EMS Shipping. I was pleased that the product had shipped within 24 hours of purchase. Eventually the package was scanned at what I figured was an air terminal. And then ... nothing.

After a few days I got an email from PCHub asking me to complete a survey on my product. But I had no product. For all I knew it was lost in transit. I sent their customer service department an email. A response came back a day or so later with a link to a US Postal Service tracking site, where I was directed to enter the original EMS tracking number. Suddenly I could see the progress of my package in the US.

Over the next few days I kept watching my package via USPS tracking. It looked to me like nobody ever told the USPS folks that this was expedited shipping, because the package kept experiencing long layovers at various locations. How was it possible to get my package from China to California in two days, only to have it take two weeks to get from California to my house in Utah? I guess that's the nature of our quasi-government owned postal service.

When the package finally arrived, I worked to install the new fan in my computer to get it up and running again. (Actually, the old fan had started sort of working, so I had felt comfortable running the machine for short periods while I was waiting.) But something wasn't right after I got everything put back together. It seemed to work OK at first, but then I got a case fan error, followed by the computer abruptly shutting down in an ominous fashion.

After once again tearing into the computer (Thank you, Lenovo for well written and illustrated online maintenance manuals), I discovered that both of the dual fan's electrical connectors were four-pin plugs, but that one of the receptacles on the motherboard had five pins.

Fortunately, I had not discarded the old fan. I'm somewhat of a hoarder of old computer parts. Upon inspection I discovered that one of the plugs on the old fan had a five-pin configuration, but only four pins were used. Using my limited ingenuity, I figured out how to delicately remove the five-pin plug from the old fan and exchange it with the four-pin plug on the new fan. I put everything back together and the computer worked as good as new.

Well, better than new in many ways, because I upgraded to Windows 10 a year ago. Some folks gripe about Windows 10, but (after turning off all of the privacy violating settings I could find) it has worked great for me, with a couple of exceptions.

One of those exceptions is that after upgrading to Windows 10, my computer screen would sometimes stay black when I tried to reactivate the screen. I had the screen set to turn off after 10 minutes of inactivity. It had never been a problem before. So for many months I set my screen to never turn off and to use the blank screen saver. The blank screen saver still bleeds a fair amount of light. I am told that this is due to some compromises made on older touch screen computers. This problem went away for a while. But after a recent Windows update the problem returned. Oh well, it's not that bad.

Oddly, about the time I replaced my computer fan, Google Chrome stopped working for me on any https site. Most of the proposed solutions focused on the network, which wasn't a problem because these same sites worked on any other computer in the house. Some focused on the computer, but that wasn't a problem, since all of these sites also worked from my computer using any other browser. Some focused on one's Chrome account, but that wasn't a problem because Chrome worked fine for me on every other computer I tried.

After much frustration and attempting many solutions, I finally came across a suggestion to download and install Chrome Canary. As I understand it, Chrome Canary is the version that beta tests the latest Chrome developments. It installed quickly and pulled in my old Chrome settings. All I can tell you is that Chrome Canary works superbly on my machine, while Chrome does not. Or at least it didn't before I uninstalled it.

Where was I going with all of this? The bad fan episode made me realize that I'm no longer much for getting into the guts of a computer. I can do it but it'd rather not. I'd probably have gone out and bought a new machine, except that some medical expenses have left us a little tight on funds right now. That's not the only reason I didn't buy a new computer. I really like my Lenovo IdeaCentre B540P. I would prefer to keep using it over shopping for and then setting up a new machine. Although it's four years old, it still works great for the way I use it.

For now. Four years is a long time in computer years. Who knows when the next thing will go bad? Hopefully well after we have recovered from our current budgetary tightness. I also learned that it can be expensive and difficult to get parts for older computers, just as it is difficult to get part for older cars and appliances.

It would be great if I didn't have to replace any more parts on my Lenovo all-in-one. I'd like it if the machine continued to perform well for at least a couple more years. But sometimes real life works differently than one would like. I guess I'll cross that bridge when I get to it.

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Teen Aspergers Report

Aspergers (an autism spectrum disorder), the psychologist informed us, is unique in each case because it always comes with one or more mental health conditions that are distinct for each individual. "We know how to deal with Aspergers," he said, "It's the associated conditions that make each case challenging."

In our son's case, those fellow travelers include major depression, general anxiety, maybe bipolar, and perhaps some obsessive compulsive tendencies. And, yeah, they're problematic. A daily cocktail of professionally monitored medications helps. We think.

Frankly, our son sometimes tires of the daily medication regimen. I see why people with mental illnesses go off their medications. (Well, that, and the meds tend to be quite expensive.) Every medication carries a host of side effects and each one has to be balanced against all the others. Some of our son's meds are prescribed to counteract some of the effects of other meds he takes that are seen as essential. That's why his medications are closely monitored by a pediatric psychiatrist.

One view is that mental health meds are like insulin for a diabetic. Maybe it works that way for some people. But it's really not that straightforward. One expert explained to us that they really don't understand the mechanisms in many drugs used for treating mental health conditions. They know that some drugs are effective for some people for some conditions, but they don't understand how they work. They don't know why those same drugs don't work for other people with the same condition. Nor do they know why some drugs sometimes stop working for people.

Once this expert explained drug therapy for mental illness quite thoroughly, it sounded very much like the practice of medicine during the dark ages. The fellow admitted that it can seem that way. His expertise came only with many years of experience with many patients. Often, he said, which drug to prescribe comes down to gut instinct.

We have seriously considered a medication free trial period for our son. But you can't stop some of these meds cold turkey without disastrous potential. The patient has to be weaned off some of these drugs and slowly ramped up on replacements.

When I mentioned to an acquaintance the possibility of our son going drug free for a time, he said, "Why not? It can't kill him. It's not like a diabetic quitting insulin." Actually, it can be. Besides, only someone that has little understanding of self harm and suicidal tendencies would suggest that going off mental health meds couldn't be fatal.

One of the drivers of our son's medication regimen fatigue is that every time he takes meds he is poignantly reminded that he is abnormal; that he is defective. Society has become somewhat more accepting of mental illness in recent years, but our culture still deals very badly with mental health disorders. They're scary because they're poorly understood. Mental illness is often seen as a moral failing.

Our son doesn't like to tell people he doesn't know well about his Aspergers, depression, anxiety, etc., because it freaks people out. They don't know what to do or say. They have an underlying fear of him. Once he has gotten to know and has hung out with male peers, they don't have much problem when he reveals his conditions to them. He seems normal enough.

Girls, on the other hand, tend to react very poorly. "They look at me like I'm not human," he tells me. It's common for people with Aspergers to have difficulty reading and demonstrating normal facial expressions and body language. But he says that he knows the look girls regularly give him when they find out about his conditions. It's a mixture of seeing him as pathetic, being scared of him, and crossing his name off the list of potential dating partners with big red Xs. "I pity you but I'm horrified of you," they seem to say.

It's hard for anyone to be a teenager. One therapist, noting that teens have to deal with physical and social developments while having brains that aren't fully developed, says that any adult with this set of circumstances would be classified as mentally ill. It's hard to be a normal teen. Add clinical mental illnesses to the mix and it's extremely challenging.

It's hard for the parents too. One evening last week it became apparent that our son was experiencing a depressive episode. I sat down with him and worked through a worksheet provided by his therapist. That helped some. Then I went to bed.

A little later my wife went looking for our son and couldn't find him. The more she looked, the more panicked she became. He has had suicidal thoughts and he's old enough now to know how to bring those thoughts to effective action. After imagining the worst, my wife finally found our son just lying on the floor to the side of the dining table. She had to enact some help techniques she has learned to eventually get him to bed and to sleep.

After a few episodes like that, a parent starts to feel fatigued with the situation. You do the kinds of things you're supposed to do to relieve stress. But you know that you can't ever get away from it. Not even when your child becomes an adult. It will always be there. Maybe dealing with it eventually becomes routine, as has dealing with my Multiple Sclerosis condition. Maybe not.

Our son's therapist says that he is impressed with our level of knowledge and the interventions we are undertaking. Most people he deals with are far more clueless. But we still feel like we don't know what we're doing most of the time. We're fumbling our way through the situation. Sometimes—well, maybe lots of times—we see in hindsight that we have messed up.

But we keep forging ahead. What else can we do? We want the best for our son that has Aspergers, just as we want the best for each of his siblings. We love him, even when it's challenging to do so. And maybe that's the key. Just keep on doing our best to love our son and deal with whatever comes.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

The pizza economy

A few years ago a friend of mine ended up acquiring a small pizza restaurant when a family member that owned it was no longer able to run the business. They do only carry-out and delivery. There's no place to sit and dine in the establishment. It's a single store, not a franchise or part of a chain.

Not far from my friend's establishment is a Pizza Hut, a Little Caesar's, a Papa Murphy's, a Papa John's, and two grocery stores that sell a variety of pizzas. One of these stores has a fast food counter that serves personal size pizza made to order. Even the nearby 7-11 offers hot pizza. In other words, my friend's pizza joint has plenty of competition.

About four years ago a pizza buffet restaurant opened in the same complex as my friend's business. When I recently asked him how that had impacted his business, he replied that as far as he could tell, it had made no difference whatsoever. Business hadn't just stayed steady, it had grown at about the same rate it had been growing before the buffet place opened.

When I expressed my dismay at this response, my friend explained that his restaurant and the buffet place offer two very different experiences. "You can go there, sit down, and immediately start eating a variety of pizzas. But, quite frankly, their pizza isn't that great. It's not bad. But it's not great pizza. If you want good pizza you go to a place like ours. Also, there are also plenty of people that prefer to dine at home, rather than battling the crowds at the buffet counter."

Home delivery, my friend explained, is a large part of his business. You don't get that from the buffet place, Little Caesar's, Papa Murphy's, the convenience stores, or the grocery stores. His store has a lot of loyal customers that use home delivery service frequently. I assume it's much the same for the nearby Pizza Hut and Papa John's establishments.

This got me thinking about the different experiences offered by the various pizza purveyors in the area. Papa Murphy's offers fresh pizza that you can bake at home at your leisure. You can get prepackaged ready-to-bake fresh pizzas at some grocery stores, but Papa Murphy's makes pizzas to order. This model only works well if you only need one or two pizzas, or if you have lots of ovens for more pizzas. Otherwise you've got hungry mouths waiting for pizzas that are still in the oven after the first ones have been devoured.

Among the pizza restaurants near my friend's place, only one—the buffet joint—offers a sit-down dining experience. I remember when most Pizza Huts were sit-down places before they shifted to the carry-out/delivery only model. I suppose this mix reflects the desires of consumers in the area.

It still seems odd to me that the suburban population near my friend's restaurant can support so many pizza institutions. My friend explained that pizza has wide appeal across demographic groups. It has relatively low cost per calorie for restaurant food. It keeps well, making for good leftovers and a low waste ratio. These factors make pizza a good option for a number of situations: people on a budget, families, parties, etc. He assured me that we will see fewer pizza offerings when pizza declines in popularity in some future day.

This whole conversation intrigued me. I don't want to pursue the restaurant business. But it is interesting to learn a few tidbits about how the restaurant economy functions. Another point of interest to me is that pizza is one of the very few foods that all members of our family will eat. Planning family meals drives my wife to despair, due to the conflicting wants and won'ts among our crew. This makes pizza an easy go-to food for family dining. As long as one pizza is cheese only. But that's another topic.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Sometimes a Church assignment can feel like it's too much

Last month in the Saturday evening session of our stake conference, our stake president assigned those present to index two batches and clear at least one name for temple ordinance work per week until the next stake conference, six months later. That's 52 batches and 26 names total.

Regular attendees of the Saturday evening session of our stake's conferences have gotten used to receiving some kind of assignment, usually related to temple work and/or family history work. This has been going on for the past seven years since our current stake presidency was called. In addition, for the past seven years our stake president has continually challenged stake members to worship in the temple weekly or as often as personal circumstances permit.

Sometimes our semi-annual assignment has been to do endowment ordinances for two names from the stake family history file. One time it was to index a certain number of names. Our stake's indexing numbers skyrocketed over that six month period.

The current assignment is probably the most challenging of all the assignments we have received, at least from my perspective. Some weeks it's difficult for me to index two batches. For a number of years I have been in the habit of looking for more challenging batches, especially in foreign languages with which I am familiar.

But this time around I have less opportunity for a leisurely approach. So I have consistently been taking the high priority batches, which have usually turned out to be quite a bit easier. Yesterday I indexed two batches of Alabama marriage records from 1985 that were typewritten. No guessing on what some clerk with sketchy handwriting actually wrote. Taking the path of least resistance is allowing me to complete my indexing assignment.
Much more difficult for me has been clearing at least one name per week for temple ordinance work. Believe me, I have been through our family history so much over my adult life that all of the low hanging fruit has been plucked. Gone are the days when I could submit 100 names at a time. In recent years it has taken months or even years of work to pull together enough research to clear even one name.

My wife, on the other hand, has a huge stack of completed research. She needs that data entered into FamilySearch. Sometimes we're not able to clear the name for work because the individual was born less than 110 years ago and we can't be sure we're the closest living relatives. But often we can clear the names.

So I could be helping my wife. And I will. But over the past few weeks as I have dug into my own family history, I have found a number of problems that need resolution. I am continually finding new duplicates that need to be merged, mis-merged records that need to be un-merged, and records missing sources where I have access to source material.
Consequently, I am failing on the assignment to clear names for ordinance work. But what I am doing is not without value. My wife feels that the stake president's goal is to have us working in FamilySearch with more regularity. If so, I'm doing OK. But if not, I'm not. I suppose I could have a breakthrough and clear 26 names in one shot. Unlikely. But miracles do happen.

Which causes me to think more about my wife's suggestion. I know my stake president. He really doesn't care about numbers unless they're an indicator of something valuable. He has explained in private that when stake members worship in the temple with greater frequency, many of the problems that members bring to stake and ward leaders tend to diminish or disappear.

This is an embodiment of Ezra Taft Benson's teaching that, "When we put God first, all other things fall into their proper place or drop out of our lives." My stake president knows that people are busy and that this assignment is challenging for stake members. But he feels that if stake members will fulfill the assignment, some less important factors will naturally drop out of their lives.

Some folks are grousing that this is simply too much. Church leaders should respect personal time and shouldn't demand so much of Church members. But nobody is forcing them to complete the assignment to the letter. It's up to them and the Lord to determine how this assignment should fit into their personal and family life. Nobody is taking their agency away.

For my part, I figure that I have the capacity to complete the assignment as it was given. So that's what I will strive to do. (I admit that there have been times when I have determined that it was impossible for me to properly fulfill a Church assignment. But that is a topic for another time.)

The first few weeks of the assignment have felt very onerous to me. Mainly because May is an insane month. Every organization—school, church, sports, arts, etc.—crams everything possible into May and early June. You have no idea how many weekends I have spent sleeping in a tent since mid-April. These demands on my time pop up every spring. But crazy season is dying down and life will soon return to a more normal pace.

If worse comes to worst, I will hurry and help my wife clear a bunch of names before November's stake conference. But in the meantime, I'm going to be working on cleaning stuff up in my family line, scanning and associating sources I have, and adding memories where possible. I will continue working to get to the temple weekly too. Some things I have been used to doing with my time won't get done. But I suppose that's the plan. I also trust that other blessings will unexpectedly distill on me and my family.

Monday, May 23, 2016

The songs I cannot sing

In the LDS ward where I grew up we frequently sang There Is Sunshine in My Soul Today. I guess it was a favorite of whoever selected the hymns for sacrament meeting. The lyrics of the second verse are indelibly imprinted on my mind:
There is music in my soul today,
A carol to my King,
And Jesus listening can hear
The songs I cannot sing.
As a child I thought this referred to a lack of musical talent, because we certainly had people in our congregation that 'sang' loudly, although, they could not really sing.
One time I complained to my mother about the singing of two older widows in our ward that often sat beside each other. It is no exaggeration to say that when they sang together it sounded like the strains of two alley cats keeping the neighborhood awake at night. Mom explained that in their younger years these sisters had each had a lovely voice and that, although age had taken its toll on those voices, their singing still sounded beautiful to the Lord.

From this experience I came to see the verse about "The songs I cannot sing" as meaning that Jesus finds our singing to be beautiful, even if it doesn't sound that way to the natural ear. A variation of this was mentioned by Elder Dallin H. Oaks in the October 1994 general conference.
I had been invited to speak at the Great Basin LDS Deaf Conference, hosted by the Salt Lake Valley (Deaf) Ward of the Salt Lake Park Stake. Over three hundred deaf brothers and sisters were in attendance. The members of the stake presidency and I were almost the only adults in the congregation who could hear and who attempted to sing audibly. The rest of that large assembly sang with their hands. Hardly a lip moved, and hardly a sound was heard except the organ and four faint voices from the stand. In the audience, all hands moved in unison with the leader as the audience signed “The Spirit of God like a fire is burning!” (Hymns, 1985, no. 2). As we sang together, the Spirit of the Lord descended upon us, and we were made ready for prayer. Our sacred music is a powerful preparation for prayer and gospel teaching.
Indeed, Jesus could hear the songs that the hearing impaired saints could not sing vocally. And so could anyone that was in tune with the Holy Spirit.

As a young adult I came to comprehend that there was a deeper meaning to the phrase, "The songs I cannot sing." If you've ever attended a temple dedication you've heard a choir sing Evan Stephens' Hosanna Anthem followed by the congregation joining the choir for at least some verses of The Spirit of God.

Although I think that the lyrics of Stephens' anthem present a valuable message, I'm not very fond of the music. It seems like an overwrought effort to capture every conceivable range of romantic era musical gymnastics. But that day when we began singing The Spirit of God with the choir, I had such a powerful spiritual experience that I was completely overcome. Although I literally could not sing the words with my mouth, I was singing them with my spirit in a much more profound way than I had ever sung a hymn before. I knew that the Lord could hear the words my natural voice could not sing.

I thought about this experience yesterday in sacrament meeting as the congregation sang Behold the Great Redeemer Die. There are 28 hymns in our current LDS hymnal that are dedicated to the sacrament (although, some others can be used too). If you attend sacrament meeting weekly you are exposed to most of the sacrament hymns with regularity. I have sung this hymn many times throughout my life. But yesterday I was so overcome with what the Holy Spirit was communicating to me that I could not voice the second or third verse. I finally sang part of the fourth verse with a quavering voice.

Some chalk this kind of thing up to simple emotionalism. I admit that some religious people conflate emotionalism with spiritual rapture. But it's not that at all. Deeply experiencing communion with the Holy Spirit can at times cause an emotional response. But not always. And it certainly has never worked the other way around for me; sentimentality has not brought the Spirit. But explaining a spiritual experience to someone that has never had such an experience is like the proverbial attempt to explain saltiness to someone that has never tasted salt.

Even when we can sing the words of a hymn clearly, our spirits can at times sing strains that could never be voiced by any human mouth. And in return, the ears of our spirit hear heavenly choirs singing melodies beyond natural human comprehension. Sacred music is really just a framework for this kind of singing to occur. When it does occur, Jesus hears the songs we cannot sing.

This kind of thing can happen when we listen to sacred music. But I believe that it is much more likely to happen when we actively participate in sacred music. This is why Elder Oaks in the previously cited October 1994 general conference talk chided church members that "have become neglectful in ... the singing of our hymns." It is why he invited us "to keep singing that we may draw ever closer to him who has inspired sacred music and commanded that it be used to worship him."

I want more opportunities for my Savior to hear the songs I physically cannot sing, not fewer. So I do my best to sing sacred music when the opportunity arises. Though my vocal abilities deteriorate as is the way of this world, yet will I strive to sing praises to my God. Though my natural hearing diminish, yet will I strive to hear heavenly choruses with my spiritual ears.

The Lord equates sacred singing with prayer (see D&C 25:12). Sacred singing has brought me such spiritual joy that I hope that I will regularly be found in this kind of prayer until my last breath.

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Making the temple a sacred space

I recently came home to find my old tattered and yellowed temple recommend sitting on the counter. Upon inquiry, I found that a family that lives a block and a half away had found it in the debris at the base of their back fence while doing spring yard work.

My mind was immediately pulled back to the day my recommend went missing late last November. Until that time my practice had been to remove my recommend from my wallet and put it in my shirt pocket prior to heading to the temple. This served the purpose of making sure that I didn't arrive at the temple without a recommend.

This practice also put the recommend in the same shirt I would be wearing while serving in the temple. Years ago a member of a temple presidency suggested to me that it would be a good idea to keep my recommend on my person while worshiping in the temple (when possible) for identification purposes. That advice came shortly after a patron had passed away in the temple, causing officials to awkwardly scramble to discover the deceased man's identity. I'm sure that possible death isn't the only reason it might be a good idea to keep some identification with you.

That fateful day last November featured gale force winds blowing out of canyons to the east of us. This kind of thing strikes our neighborhood with some regularity, including this past weekend. That day as my wife, my recently endowed son, and I prepared to leave for the temple, I noted that the garbage can had blown over. I righted the can before climbing into the car.

Upon arriving at the temple I discovered that my recommend was no longer in my shirt pocket. It quickly dawned on me that it must have slipped out while I was dealing with the garbage bin. Given the force of the winds, I figured that the recommend was halfway to Nevada by then. I urged my wife and son to enter the temple without me, saying that I would return to pick them up later.

My wife gave me the firm message that we are an eternal family and that we accordingly would only enter the temple together that day. She and my son waited while I discussed the matter with a temple worker. The worker collected my bishop's contact information and asked us to wait. A few minutes later he returned and authorized me to enter the temple with my family members. So we were able to worship together in the temple that day.

I didn't bother trying to find the recommend that was gone with the wind. Where would I look for such a small piece of paper? Two days later I was able to arrange for a temple recommend interview with a member of my bishopric. As luck would have it, an unexpected opportunity arose that same day to have an interview with a member of my stake presidency. So I had a newly authorized recommend scarcely 48 hours after my old recommend had blown away.

Losing my recommend has caused me to change my former practice of putting my recommend in my shirt pocket prior to leaving for the temple. I now check my wallet prior to leaving for the temple to ensure that my recommend is indeed where I expect it to be. After passing the recommend desk at the temple I put my recommend in my shirt pocket until I change clothes following the session, at which point I return my recommend to my wallet. At least, that's how it works when everything goes well.

On a side note, I used to keep my recommend in my temple bag along with my temple clothes. Once when I was on a business trip, an unanticipated opportunity to attend a nearby temple arose. I was eager to go, only to realize that my recommend was at home in my temple bag. That's when I started carrying it in my wallet.

Seeing the beat up recommend on the counter has caused me to reflect a bit on its loss. My first feeling upon realizing that my recommend was missing at the temple that day was alarm. Once I got over the initial shock, I felt regret, frustration, and concern about being separated from my family members. That lasted only a few minutes until I found that it would be alright.

Pondering the matter further, I realized that part of the disappointment I felt when I thought I wouldn't be able to enter the temple that day was the knowledge that I would miss out on the peace and serenity I regularly experience while worshiping in the temple. This is a difficult (if not impossible) thing to describe to others. I can and do find tranquility and spiritual connection in many settings. But what I experience in the temple is unique.

In the April 2003 general conference, Dennis B. Neuenschwander, then of the Presidency of the Seventy gave a talk titled Holy Place, Sacred Space. I have found myself returning to this talk with some regularity. Elder Neuenschwander says, "Our ability to seek, recognize, and reverence the holy above the profane, and the sacred above the secular, defines our spirituality."

Humans have sought sacred and holy spaces since before recorded history. Every religion (and nearly every nonreligious philosophy) has its holy places. People do not equally experience these places as sacred. Elder Neuenschwander explains that "The faith and reverence associated with [holy places] and the respect we have for what transpires or has transpired in them make them holy."

Elder Neuenschwander makes it clear that we must commit more than just reverence to experience the sacred. "There can be no sacredness without personal sacrifice. Sacrifice sanctifies the sacred." What might we sacrifice? Among other things, "We sacrifice time in search for our ancestors and time to attend to our temple responsibilities. We also strive to live the highest standards of personal worthiness, which qualify us to enter the sacred space of this most holy place."

What would you sacrifice to have a sacred moment with God in His holy house? A friend of mine likes to say that your visit to the temple can be one of the holiest moments of your life. Or it can be no more sacred than a trip to Burger King. It's really up to you. If you're not having a sacred experience in a place that others consider holy, just realize that it's you, not them.

Sometimes we inadvertently do things that detract from the sacred nature of places we believe to be holy. I have noted that wedding parties waiting outside temple doors sometimes break into boisterous cheering when a newly wed couple exits the temple doors. While rejoicing can be sacred, some celebrants exhibit behavior that is more at home in a sports arena, being so loud that their clamor penetrates the walls of the sacred edifice, disturbing worshipers.

It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt. This can even be true of temple workers, who sometimes treat their activities in the temple with less reverence than that holy place should warrant.

While my personal experience of temple holiness varies (mostly due to me rather than external circumstances), some of my life's most sacred moments have occurred in holy temples. My wife and I still cherish the moment when I proposed to her in the celestial room of the Ogden Temple. (Having served a mission, she was previously endowed.) Months later we knelt across a sacred altar in the temple and were sealed together for time and all eternity.

A few years later as we struggled with infertility, I gained a clear understanding while fasting and praying in the temple that we would have four boys and a girl born to us. We eventually did. I watched tears roll down the cheeks of my stoic German father as he was sealed to his deceased parents, for whom Mom and I acted as proxies. After the ordinance, my visionary father told me that his parents had been present during the ordinance.

On three occasions I have welcomed a newly endowed child of mine into the celestial room of a temple. I once sat in a temple session and prayed to have the oppressive darkness I was experiencing during a period of depression and unemployment lifted. My Savior immediately took that burden away and filled me with incredible light. The darkness did not return.

On one occasion as I sat in the baptistery chapel of the temple with my then 12-year-old daughter. I felt a marvelous sacred spirit as I watched patrons being baptized on behalf of their kindred dead. I realized that my daughter was feeling this too when she leaned her head onto my shoulder at the perfect moment, causing me to experience one of the greatest joys a daddy can have.

I have, of course, had many more sacred experiences than these in the temple. So many that I can't count them, although, I have recorded a number of them in my journals. The temple is a holy place because many people work and sacrifice to make it a sacred space. It is a place to experience greater contact with the divine. But only if you choose it. Choose wisely.

Wednesday, April 06, 2016

Can you say, "O death, where is thy sting?" and mean it?

Within the past couple of weeks I have received news of the passing of two of my high school classmates. These aren't the first members of my class of about 500 that have passed through the veil. I am aware of several others, including one that died of complications related to Multiple Sclerosis, a disease that I have lived with for most of my adult life.

Although these recent deaths represent only 0.4% of my graduating class, seeing two classmates die in such a short period of time naturally causes me to reflect a little more seriously upon my own mortality. I attended elementary school and played little league sports with these two. Although I haven't seen them since high school years ago, I see a reflection of my own existence in their obituaries.

People have a variety of approaches to grappling with their own impending deaths. After all, each of us has exactly one lifetime to prepare for that inescapable eventuality. Sometimes death's door comes as a welcome release after a long health struggle. Other times it strikes quickly, leaving survivors feeling as if they have been punched in the gut.

Some try to ignore their future demise until it stares them in the face. Some spend years courting it. When I was a missionary in Norway I became familiar with the works of the famed Norwegian artist Edvard Munch, whose most famous work is likely his painting, The Scream. Munch's entire life and body of work seems to have revolved around a morbid fascination with and fear of death. Ironically, he lived to age 80, which was a fairly long life for that era. But that time can hardly be considered happy.

Most people, however, arrive at some kind of accommodation with the knowledge that they will die someday. Studies show that the vast majority of people do this through faith based belief systems. Many studies suggest that people of faith tend to live happier and healthier lives, and to experience greater peace in the face of death.

My personal approach to dealing with my impending demise is based in a lifetime of cultural, secular, and religious experiences and foundations. There are so many of these threads woven into my thinking that it would be impossible to tease them apart. Many of these bits surf only my subconscious waves. But several particular events stick out for me.

Nearly eight years ago my father passed away following about a year and a half of decline precipitated by a stroke. As I looked at his emaciated remains on the hospital bed, I was suddenly overwhelmed with "the peace of God, which passeth all understanding" (Philippians 4:7). I clearly knew in my soul that my father and I would someday stand together as resurrected beings. Some would say this was just a manifestation of grief. They would be wrong. They weren't there. I was. The experience was palpable and undeniable.

I later saw Dad in a spiritual dream. Most of my dreams are an odd jumble of things that flow like meaningless flotsam on a stream of uncontrollable unconsciousness. But every once in a while I have a clear dream where the Holy Spirit is present. This was one of those, and that's all I will say about it.

About a dozen years ago I was helping Boy Scouts build a snow cave when the structure collapsed on me. (I have since learned and taught much about snow safety.) I was panicked. I couldn't move. Snow crystals were filling my mouth and throat as I struggled to breathe. But the worst thing was that I couldn't expand my lungs to inhale the limited available air because my rib cage was immobilized.

At this moment of great alarm, I realized that my death might be imminent. Oddly, I was far less concerned about its effect on me than on my son and the other Scouts that were nearby. I silently prayed for help. Even as I struggled, I experienced a moment of deep clarity. This cannot be fully described in human terms. But knowledge and light from a source outside of myself was suddenly injected into me and I knew, absolutely knew, that if I died right then I would continue to exist as myself in spirit form. I knew that I would be alright even if my physical body died.

By this time Scouts were climbing all over the top of me, which I doubted was the best way to ensure my survival. But there had a been a thick crusty layer of icy snow that had broken apart upon collapse. Boys were throwing those chunks out of the depression. Suddenly one Scout moved a chunk that relieved the pressure on one arm. I was able to use that arm to clear away another chunk, and then I could sit up and get my head above the snow. I extracted myself and spent a couple of minutes on my hands and knees coughing up ice.

I walked away from that disaster with my physical body intact. But I also walked away with the undeniable knowledge that I would exist after death and that I would be fine. Several other experiences that I won't detail at this time have given me glimpses into the spirit world. Really, I will be just fine when the time comes to go there on a more permanent basis.

The final experience that I write about occurred during my service as a missionary. This one is too sacred to me to detail at this point. But it involved other senses than just internal sight. One afternoon I had occasion to study and deeply ponder 3 Nephi when this event occurred. Suffice it to say that I can — no I must — testify that the resurrected Savior Jesus Christ literally did visit with the Nephites as described in the scripture.

The resurrection is real. Not just for the Savior but for each of us, because of the Savior's Atonement, as Alma(2) declared in Alma 41:2.

I feel grief at the passing of loved ones. I mourn at funerals. But because of what I know to be true, I still feel to exclaim with the Apostle Paul, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?" (1 Corinthians 15:55). My prayer is that you will also know the truth of these words in your soul so that you can own them and say them with sincerity.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why are there so few Easter songs?

"Why do we have so few Easter songs?" my son asked. He was specifically talking about Church hymns and children's songs. "We have loads of Christmas songs but hardly any Easter songs," he said. He noted that while Christmas celebrates our Savior's miraculous birth, the only reason that Christmas and our entire religion have any meaning at all is Christ's Atonement, which is the focus of Easter. So why not more Easter songs?

It turns out that we do have a number of Easter hymns and songs. The hymnbook topic index lists 13 titles under the topic Easter. But I think that any of the 30 titles under the Sacrament heading would be suitable, as would a number of other hymns. The book lists 15 Christmas hymns.

The Children's Songbook topic index lists 17 Christmas songs and only 7 Easter songs, but again, I think that a number of other songs in the book suitably address the Savior and His Atonement.

My son makes a good point. Sacred music is an important part of our worship experience. And what could be more important than the message of Easter where we commemorate Christ's victory over sin and death? It's easy to bring sacred Christmas songs to mind but I think that the average Latter-day Saint would find it much more difficult to come up with many Easter songs.

Although people whine about the secularization of Christmas and the demise of sacred Christmas music in our culture, I think that it's actually quite common to encounter Christmas hymns for many weeks leading up to Christmas. We don't do Easter like that in our culture. It's pretty much limited to one weekend. So we just don't hear music specific to Easter all that often.

While the Church holds a place aloof from the broader culture, it is designed to serve people largely living in that broader culture. So it shouldn't be surprising that the Church tends to reflect society to a certain degree.

Our modern culture goes hog wild over Christmas. The secularization of Christmas began centuries ago when branches of the Christian church syncratized the celebration of Christ's birth with renewal traditions that existed in many cultures. That secularization has led to the holiday becoming a huge worldwide cultural event.

Easter has been secularized too. I can't for the life of me comprehend people taking their little kiddies to have photos taken with the Easter bunny. Most of those Easter bunny costumes look creepy anyway. Come to think of it, Santa costumes often do as well. Why do you think it's so common for kids to bawl like crazy while sitting on Santa's lap?

For the first time in more than two decades we dispensed with our annual family Easter egg hunt this year, figuring that our youngest is now too old for it. Last year when trying to find the last of the eggs we discovered one that had been hidden since the previous Easter. And then there are those people that roll Easter eggs. What's up with the whole Easter egg tradition anyway? Jim Gaffigan jokes that this and certain other holiday traditions seem like they were designed by a drunk guy.

Some people go crazy on Easter, making it another major gifting occasion. The secular portion of our Easter celebration has always been much more muted. We have had our annual plastic Easter egg hunt (until this year) and have put out Easter baskets filled with candy. My oldest son asked why Easter baskets had to contain a bed of fake plastic grass. So his basket didn't have any of that this year; just candy.

Perhaps it's my perception, but Easter still seems to have a significant religious focus for most celebrants. Music plays a major role for most that make it a communal worship experience.

This past Sunday our ward choir sang several Easter appropriate arrangements in sacrament meeting, culminating with a rousing rendition of the traditional Easter hymn He Is Risen! Praising the Lord for the miracle of the Savior's resurrection should always be joyful. I hope that your Easter celebrations included some sacred music that brought joy and peace to your soul.