Monday, June 26, 2017

The dog, paw surgery, bandage, and cone drama

Our 5½-year-old Imo Inu dog (cross between American Eskimo and Shiba Inu breeds) is a gorgeous white male that is more than half again as large as his breed is supposed to get.
One of the nice things about our dog's breed is that it tends to self clean, similar to many breeds of cat. This has many benefits. Our dog doesn't often traipse into the house with messy paws, for example. But our dog's penchant for self grooming recently became a problem.

A few weeks ago we noticed a growth on the top of one of the dog's front paws. We took him to the vet, who said it was something like a cyst that needed to be removed soon. After the surgery we kept his foot wrapped with gauze and a self-adhering bandage.

As soon as the effects of the general anesthetic wore off, it became quite clear that we would need something to prevent the dog from accessing his paw with his mouth. A standard plastic e-collar (Elizabethan collar, aka "cone of shame") seemed to be the most economical approach. But the size that fit him was simply not adequate. Our dog could access his paw with relative ease even with the collar properly in place.

Before long we obtained a Comfy Cone brand padded fabric collar for the dog. It was a little longer. But the dog could still get to his paw. So we came up with the brilliant idea to extend the Comfy Cone by attaching the e-collar with duct tape, redneck style.

Although this extended the cone, our dog could still manage to reach his paw via somewhat extraordinary contortions. He would stand up and bend his head down in a way that bent the outer edge of the extended cone, at the same time shoving his paw forward as far as it would go. Then he would extend his neck far enough that he could reach the paw with his front teeth. This allowed him to rip off the bandage and chew up his knuckles to the point of making them bleed. (Although, he still couldn't reach the stitches.)

After getting very tired of having to constantly baby-sit the dog, I grabbed an old ice cream bucket one day, cut the sides from it, and used duct tape to attach the pieces so that they extended the double cone yet more. Seeing how this worked, I used parts of two more ice cream buckets to make a (nearly) full circle.

The pieces of ice cream bucket looked like flower petals. This conical concoction was heavy and unwieldy. I started calling it "Conehenge." It looked utterly ridiculous. But it kept our tenacious dog from reaching his paw. The paw began healing nicely over the next couple of days as we regularly changed the dressing, gave the dog prescribed antibiotics, and also gave the dog buffered aspirin formulated for canines.
As you might imagine, this was an imperfect solution. The ice cream bucket pieces were far less durable than the e-collar material. The dog whacked the massive cone on everything, causing the ice cream bucket pieces to split and chip. But he still couldn't get to his paw.

Until he could. He managed to break Conehenge enough to access his paw while we were out of the house. It ripped up his mouth to do so, but apparently that was an acceptable price to pay. We were frustrated. Although we realized that the dog was simply doing what his instincts told him, we were about out of options. My brother suggested that the correct answer to a situation of this nature was a bullet to the noggin. And before anyone asks, nasty tasting deterrent sprays and bitter tasting bandage material offered little in the way of dissuasion to our dog.

While we were trying to figure out how to deal with our dog's cone situation, the dog was unattended for a few moments when we thought he was sleeping. I soon discovered that his paw was missing the bandage and wound dressing. I looked around, but the remnants were nowhere to be found. My wife said that he must have eaten it. The dog has always had a thing for bandages. He would love to lick a bandage right off your finger if you let him. But I couldn't imagine how the critter could have ingested the entire paw dressing in such a short time frame.

We ended up buying an extra large e-collar and hooking that to the Comfy Cone with duct tape.
Conehead the Barkbarian
This setup seems to work. It's as large as Conehenge without the excessive weight and brittleness. The dog can't get to his paw. Although he had the stitches out the other day and he no longer needs to have the paw bandaged, it still has a scab which he simply can't let be. The dog may need to wear the collar for several weeks until the paw is 100% healed.

Although the super cone keeps the dog's paw safe, it is still unwieldy. He can go down steps, but he can't go up stairs of his own accord because the lower lip of the cone hits and gets stuck on every step. We end up having to heft and carry our 65-lbs of Imo Inu every time steps must be climbed. The dog can't eat or drink on his own. He can't get as close as he'd like to sniff at stuff. He can't self groom. He constantly bumps into people, walls, furniture, the floor, etc. In other words, the cone is a pain for the dog and for us. But what else can we do?

Last night our coned canine seemed uncomfortable all night long. He just couldn't seem to get into a comfortable position, dog aspirin notwithstanding. He made a lot of noise rustling about, which interrupted the sleep of family members. We couldn't fathom what was wrong. His paw seemed to look so much better.

This morning as I sat down to work, the dog leaned on my legs beneath my desk. He was being especially clingy. Then suddenly he hurled up a massive load of vomit. I couldn't keep all of it from going onto the carpet, but I was able to quickly direct his cone so that most of the bilious mass sloshed onto my plastic chair mat, like it was sliding down a reverse funnel.

The central feature of this nasty spew was the bandage and gauze that had gone missing from the dog's paw, in two large and two small chunks. The whole thing was there. It had somehow been in his belly for four full days. He had eaten, drunk, urinated, and defecated during that time without showing signs of gut problems. I have no idea why he suddenly became uncomfortable only last night. At least he seems to be feeling better now, although, I had to clean up under my desk.

I am fond of reminding family members that I voted against getting the dog. I knew he would impose a number of burdens on our family that I didn't think were worth the trade off. The dog regularly frustrates me and I am forced to deal with the onuses that I knew would be part of dog ownership. But I still love the dog and everyone in the family knows it. Including the dog.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

My newfound fascination with the unfollow button

Dear Facebook Friends,

I have recently been unfollowing many of you. I was going to write something trite like, "It's not you; it's me." But that wouldn't be completely true.

It started out with just a trickle. I didn't really think much about why I was doing it. After looking at one of your posts that I thought was inane, I just tapped on the little down arrow and selected the unfollow link. It was so easy. The guilt and FOMO (fear of missing out) that I expected to feel never materialized. Instead I felt a sense of euphoria, as if fetters with which I had been bound suddenly melted away.

That intoxicating feeling resulted in unfollowing increasing numbers of friends. Yes, I know that if this trend continues my feed will soon be empty. But I'm wondering if that's really such a bad thing, considering the general quality of the material I see in my feed.

This process has caused some introspection, allowing me to see some patterns appear as I have unfollowed increasing numbers of you. Let me plainly admit that the moment I see that your post has foul language or risqué images/messages, I choose to hide it. I just don't need that junk in my head. If too many of your posts are laced with this kind of crap, it's just easier to unfollow you than to sit around hoping that you will at some point post something of value.

Actually, those of you whom I have unfollowed for such unfortunate messages have been few. Nor have I unfollowed any of you because I disagree with you politically, religiously, or otherwise ideologically. I appreciate diversity of thought. Value exists in having one's positions challenged and in recognizing that there are thoughtful people of goodwill who see things differently.

Rather, I have realized that the main reason I have unfollowed many of you is the sheer volume of stuff you send across my feed. Quite frankly, some of you must feel a need to share everything you see on Facebook. Some of you have your settings such that I see everything you like. And it seems as if some of you like everything you see.

When my feed is jammed with 40 of your shared or liked items in a single day, it's just too much. I'm overwhelmed. I don't have time to deal with that kind of volume. Nor do I need to clog my limited mental bandwidth with most of the material you share or like.

Please realize that the most entertaining stuff you send across my feed has usually come to me many times already. Reruns. Much of the other stuff in my feed does little to enrich my life. When the great majority of material I see from you falls in these categories, I unfollow you.

I'm also going to unfollow you if you overload my feed with political posts, regardless of whether I agree with you politically or not. We all know that the vast majority of political posts on social media amount to sniping at the opposing party and validating your own party, without providing much newsworthiness or informative value.

I ... have ... had ... enough! I do not need to be exposed to breathless political drivel to be sufficiently informed about political matters. An occasional thoughtful political message is fine. But a constant feed of political nitpicking daily? Just go away already.

One more thing. Keep your passive aggressive posts to yourself. Every time I see something like, "I bet this won't get very many likes," or "I'm going to rant..." or any other approach that tries to make me feel like garbage if I don't repost, share, or like something, I'm going to unfollow you. I'm tired of seeing posts of that nature. It's bad social media citizenship.

Oh, and feel free to return the favor. It won't bother me at all if you unfollow me. I won't know that you've unfollowed me. Nor will I care. You have your life to live. You are not required to spend your limited resources paying attention to stuff I post, like, or share.

There, I got that off my chest. I hope we can still be friends. Just because I don't find value in everything you value does not mean that we can't have a relationship. I wish you goodness and happiness, despite no longer following you on Facebook.


Saturday, May 20, 2017

The LDS Church-BSA partnership will continue for now

About a week ago I wrote this post about the LDS Church discontinuing its sponsorship of  theVarsity Scouting and Venturing programs. After a week of considering the matter, I now see some facets of this issue differently. I covered some of this in comments on that blog post. But after more consideration, I think this warrants its own post.

Some are certain that the Church's action is simply a precursor to discontinuing its relationship with Scouting completely. While some make this prognostication with deep regret, others are gleefully ready to pound nails in the coffin of Scouting. I'm not ready to go there. The recently announced program change might indeed be the prelude to the end of LDS Scouting. But quite frankly, I've been hearing variations on this theme for 35 years, often as an excuse for shoddy stewardship in a calling.

I will be the first to admit that the world is a very different place than it was when Scouting was vogue, and that the Scouting program suits some boys better than others. Certainly there are cogent arguments for the Church to drop all sponsorship of Scouting. But there are also solid reasons for the Church to continue to sponsor Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts.

I found it informative to watch the following 20-minute interview with current BSA National Commissioner Charles W. Dahlquist, who served as LDS Church Young Men General President from 2004 to 2009.

Brother Dahlquist has been on both sides of the LDS-BSA equation. Even he can't say where this will ultimately go. He references a statement made by Church leaders some four decades ago, saying that when Scouting no longer meets the needs of the Church and the Aaronic Priesthood, the Church will discontinue its sponsorship of Scouting. He said that this statement remains true today, but in his estimation we are from from the point where Scouting does not meet the Church's needs. I know people who disagree with him, but they are not among top decision makers in the Church.

In my previous post I opined that the Church would likely stop sponsoring Scouting if the BSA were to make the programs now known as Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts co-ed. In a comment I cited the reasoning of a Scouting friend, who noted that the BSA already began allowing "transgender boys" (i.e. girls who say they identify as boys) into these programs. There are already girls suing the BSA for keeping them out of Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts. My friend asked how the BSA can say in court that girls must not be permitted into these programs, when it already allows girls into the programs. So it would seem that it's only a matter of time before Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts become mixed-sex programs. I assumed that at that point the Church would get out of Scouting.

Brother Dahlquist brushed aside these concerns by citing the fact that religious organizations that sponsor Scouting units have solidly protected rights to determine unit membership for religious purposes. For example, Venturing has been a co-ed program for decades. Yet in all the years the Church has sponsored Venturing, its units have been exclusively for boys and their male adult leaders. This precedent shows that the Church could continue to register only boys in Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts if the BSA made these programs co-ed. So I believe that the concern I penned in my previous post really amounts to nothing.

The main question, as framed by Brother Dahlquist (quoting previous Church leaders) is whether top Church leaders believe that Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting meet the Church's needs at present. The recent statement shows that Church leaders feel that these programs fill the need for now. But, as Brother Dahlquist noted, that question is constantly up for review.

Commissioner Dahlquist also admitted that the Church is actively seeking a more global approach to youth programs. The diversity of Scouting programs around the world make it impossible for Scouting to be that global program for the Church. So it would seem that the Church is well aware that it will fully drop Scouting at some point. Brother Dahquist expressed hope that this juncture was yet many years away.

Whether the Church gets out of Scouting in the near or distant future, my plan is to continue to sustain Church leaders. Since they have directed that Cub Scouting and Boy Scouting continue for now, I will continue to enthusiastically support these programs in the Church.

My role is somewhat different as an Order of the Arrow chapter adviser. OA units are sponsored by the BSA, not by any external organization. The Order's membership policies must mirror those of the Boy Scout program. If that program admits both boys and girls, so will the OA. And it will be just fine. The OA will flex to meet the needs of its members.

It seems to me, however, that if the OA begins to admit girls, it will need to revamp some fundamental tenets of its program. Namely, the OA is a brotherhood. It is a fraternal service organization. Brotherhood is heavily referenced in its ceremonies and program materials. It is part of the Obligation (OA oath) and the song of the Order. The first word in the three-word Native American name of the Order translates to Brotherhood. I'm certain that national officials are quite aware of this issue. I suspect that they are studying changes that would become necessary if girls are admitted to the OA.

Scouting will continue. The LDS Church will continue. Both organizations will continue their partnership for now, although, it seems clear that the partnership must ultimately cease at some point. Until that time, I will continue to support this union.

Friday, May 12, 2017

A longtime LDS Scouter's views on the LDS Church dropping support of some Scouting programs

I still remember what it felt like to officially become a Cub Scout. My oldest brother had been a Cub Scout and had recently advanced to the Boy Scout troop. Brother #2 was now a seasoned member of the Cub Scout pack. My family couldn't afford official Cub Scout pants, but upon my induction I received an official Cub Scout shirt with appropriate patches, a neckerchief with slide, an iconic blue Cub Scout web belt with its gold buckle, and a Cub Scout cap. I had arrived. I was part of something big, noble, and important.

That sense of pride was repeated as I made transitions to succeeding BSA programs sponsored by my LDS ward. I was so proud to don the khaki Boy Scout uniform. Eventually I became an Explorer and even represented my council at the National Explorer President's Congress in Washington DC. (The LDS Church later transitioned from sponsoring Exploring to sponsoring Venturing.)

It was with great pride that I became a member of the Order of the Arrow, Scouting's national honor society, and then became an Eagle Scout the following year. My summers working on Boy Scout camp staff provided a strong platform for a life of dedicated service to others. So valuable were my youthful associations with the BSA that I have volunteered as a Scouting leader throughout my adult life, hoping to provide for others something akin to what my leaders provided for me during my formative years.

During my first couple of decades as a member of the BSA, the values of the LDS Church and the BSA seemed to mesh well, even as the BSA was challenged in various venues for holding to traditional values. But it is no secret that the approaches of the two organizations have increasingly diverged during the current decade.

The fraying division starkly came into focus as I prepared to attend National Order of the Arrow Conference in the summer of 2015. The BSA had voted to permit gay leaders, after the LDS Church had asked that the final vote be delayed until after top church leaders could confer on the matter. The Church responded with a public statement saying that it was "deeply troubled" by the vote and that it would carefully review the matter. (See my 7/27/15 and 7/30/15 posts.)

We went to NOAC under a cloud of uncertainty as to whether our LDS contingent members would still be members of the BSA after the conference. Toward the end of the summer the Church announced that it would continue to sponsor BSA units. (See my 8/26/15 post.) Still, the Church's announcement of the continuation of the LDS-BSA relationship made it clear that this partnership was subject to future revision.

A part of that future became present yesterday when the Church announced that it will discontinue sponsoring Varsity Scout and Venturing units at the end of 2017. See:

Let me first address the obvious points of this policy change. This announcement will change nothing about the way the vast majority of LDS units in North America run activities programs for young men ages 14-18. Quite frankly, only a tiny percentage of LDS units have really been doing either the Varsity Scout or Venturing programs for many years now. The policy change merely makes official what has long been occurring in most wards and branches.

By saying this I intend no disrespect to those leaders who have valiantly worked to implement these programs in their units. Those units will be impacted by this decision. But most of the young men targeted by these programs during this century have been Varsity Scouts or Ventures in name only. Most of the LDS boys registered in these programs couldn't tell you anything substantive about their programs. This undoubtedly is part of the reason the Church is dropping its support of these programs.

In its announcement, the Church signaled its continued support of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs, targeting boys ages 8-13. LDS boys ages 14-17 who wish to continue working on Boy Scout advancement will be registered with the troop. I assume that most of these will still attend Mutual with their respective age groups.

There has long been a sentiment in North American LDS culture that a young man is pretty much done with Scouting when he turns 14. It's been like a rite of passage. They think that their 14th birthday means that they will never wear a Scout uniform again. This is true for many. But some boys have continued Scouting even when the Varsity Scout and Venturing programs have been largely absent in their wards. I believe that this new change will intensify the end-of-Scouting tendency and will further thin the ranks of those that wish to continue their Scouting efforts.

Last night at Scout leader round table meeting, a member of our district relationships committee (a member of a local stake presidency) warned against reading too much into the Church's announcement. In instances like this, he noted, we sometimes have a tendency to assume we know what will happen next, when, in fact, we don't.

He's right. Many will assume that the Church is merely taking a piecemeal approach discontinuing its association with the BSA. That may be true. But I'm willing to take the statement at face value. North American LDS Church members have long exhibited strong support of the Cub Scout and Boy Scout programs, notwithstanding those Church members that don't care for Scouting programs. (A friend and his wife call Scouting "The 'S' word.")

Regardless of intention, yesterday's announcement can't help but have a chilling effect on Church members' enthusiasm for the portions of the Scouting program the Church will continue to support. People may not know what comes next in the relationship between the LDS Church and the BSA, but they probably can't help but notice a pattern.

The Church's Q&A about the Scouting policy change ends by asking, "Is this a reaction to the news that the Boy Scouts of America is considering the inclusion of girls and young women in its programs?" The answer simply says that this was not a known factor at the time the decision was made. It make no allusion to what might happen if the BSA goes co-ed with its programs now known as Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. But I would be very surprised if the Church continued to sponsor Scouting at that juncture.

While the broader culture continues to move away from male-only programs for youth, the Church finds gospel centered value in continuing to offer single-sex programs for its youth ages 8-18. (I was going to write that the broader culture is moving away from single-sex programs for youth, but I'm not sure that's true. Support for many girl-only programs seems strong, while male-only programs in general are increasingly viewed as ignoble. Still, there is a motivated effort afoot to completely erase all distinctions of sex, allowing individuals to define sex for themselves. So there's no telling where this will go.)

I don't have a crystal ball that tells me where the relationship with the LDS Church and the BSA is going or how soon it will get there. What I can say is that over the space of many years, millions of boys have benefited from this relationship. But the values of the two organizations may diverge to the point that this partnership no longer makes sense.

If we get to that spot, I will find myself no longer be registered with a BSA unit. I could go out and find a community unit to link up with or I could found a community unit. That would be noble, but I've got too much going on in my life as it is, so that prospect seems doubtful for me.

Regardless of whether the Church ultimately drops Scouting completely, I will always look on my decades of involvement with the BSA with fondness and gratitude. I can't begin to enumerate the good that has come into my life through Scouting. I won't live in nostalgiaville, but I will always find ways to serve others in a meaningful fashion.

Friday, April 14, 2017

A trip to Disneyland with 300 high school students

The performing arts department of our local high school has sponsored a spring break trip to Disneyland for students in the program every couple of years for a number of years now. I first became aware of the program a few years back when our then high school senior wanted to go on the trip. He returned with a glowing report. He still counts the trip as one of the most cherished experiences of his high school years.

When my wife brought up the possibility of our son who has special needs going on the trip this year, I knew that his condition was such that we could not trust him to an adult chaperone that might or might not have adequate training to manage his needs. We ultimately offered to have me go on the trip as a chaperone for a group of boys, including our son.

This Disney trip would be impossible without the dedication of the school's drama director. I have watched this man grow from one of my young Boy Scouts into a highly competent drama and education professional. Although he doesn't earn one dime more than a teacher that puts in eight hours a day and then goes home, he has for years devoted vast chunks of personal time and effort to high quality productions and programs.

Not only would the Disney trip not happen without my friend's selfless work, his logistical management ensured efficient schedules, good accommodations, and minimal problems, all on a very low budget. This allowed a high number of drama, choir, band, orchestra, and journalism students to go. Even the Disney folks that work daily with school groups were impressed with my friend's attention to detail.

A few days before the trip we attended a concert at the school where each group performed the show they would be performing in California. Due to extensive preparations, each tour member received a duffel bag embroidered with the theme and their own name. In the bag were three T-shirts of different colors and designs. The proper T-shirt was to be worn on each of the three days we would be in the parks so that we could more easily identify tour members.

After the concert, chaperones gathered for a final meeting to put a cap on all the information that had been regularly emailed to us in the weeks preceding the event. We had enough chaperones that most groups consisted of 6-10 students. The drama director had a detailed binder that included all of the information about the trip to a high degree of detail. Each chaperone received a copy of the binder in booklet form. The students had received their booklets at school. In addition, everyone received a laminated copy of the full itinerary to keep with them at all times on the trip.

We gathered at the school late on a Sunday night to board rented tour buses. Most gear was stowed below. We kept anything we would need for the night and most of Monday with us. Travelers found their preassigned seats. And then we were off, pretty much on schedule.

I wasn't sure how well I would sleep on a bus. It sure wasn't as restful as being in my own bed, but it wasn't that bad. We occasionally paused at large truck stops along the way so that folks could stretch their legs and take care of necessities. (Each bus also had a restroom, but that's not really adequate for all of the people on the bus on a long trip.)

Mid morning on Monday we pulled into the parking lot of a beach not far from Anaheim. After a continental breakfast, we spent the next part of the day hanging out on the beach, swimming in the surf, and visiting nearby shops. Many people bought lunch.

After leaving the beach we went to a grocery store. The chaperones handed out the first per diem amount to their group members to buy food for breakfasts for the next three days. Students pooled their money with those that would be in the same hotel room. We then checked into the hotel and got everyone situated before heading off to dinner at Medieval Times. We ate dinner while watching a spectacular reenactment of a medieval knight tournament. Then it was back to the hotel and bed.

Although there was plenty of time for entertaining ourselves, the main purpose of the trip was for students to engage in top notch workshops with Disney professionals and to perform publicly at a Disney park.

The weather turned out to be spectacular during the next three days. Each day we would get the students to the Disney parks early. Different groups performed at different times. Each group also attended a top notch workshop in their discipline with Disney professionals. Once again, our drama director managed getting all of the performance gear and apparel where it needed to be, when it needed to be there. Chaperones managed getting students to their performances and workshops, although, most students were pretty responsible about this on their own.

Since my son is in one of the choirs, I was privileged to attend the choir workshop. This was led by a high energy middle age woman who could sing many diverse styles with stunning excellence. She also played the piano and was great at directing the choir. They listed a number of shows and video games that featured her vocal talents. Our choir director was very impressed. This woman taught about the business as well as technique. It was amazing to see and hear what she pulled out of our students. Our choir director was given recordings, which can be played at the school but cannot be legally distributed in any fashion.

Each day chaperones would hand out a per diem to group members to help defray the cost of eating lunch and dinner. It was made clear beforehand that students needed to supplement with their own money, since the per diem was definitely insufficient to buy real meals in the parks. Most of us regularly hiked to nearby fast food places to save money.

Spring break time is among the busiest times at Disney parks, along with Christmastime, and most of the summer. The parks weren't bad first thing in the morning. But I found that something I had heard years ago was true. The crowds that arrive at pretty much any Disney park at opening time tend to go to the right or else straight forward after walking through the entry area. If you turn instead to the left you will have no problem hitting attractions in those areas for the first hour. Crowds start to saturate after that.

During the days we were were at the parks, the sheer press of people was most pronounced between 4 pm and about 9:30 pm. Stepping onto a walkway was like jumping into a rushing river and getting carried along by the current. You have to plan and time your exit as if you are swimming in a current.

Another thing that amazed me was the number of people that would start sitting down along parade routes even more than three hours in advance, in order to have a prime seat for a 15-minute parade. Yes, they are high quality parades. But, come on! I kept thinking, "You paid an astronomical price for a ticket to get in here, and now you're going to blow a huge part of the time in the park sitting on dirty concrete?" Whatever.

Free Fastpasses are a great idea for the most popular attractions. These allowed us to quickly get on rides that others waited hours to ride. But you have to get Fastpasses early in the day because only a limited number are offered each day.

I wore good athletic shoes with Drymax lite hiking socks. But we walked a lot. My phone tells me that I walked more than 100,000 steps during the three days we spent at the Disney parks. If each of those had been a full step it would have amounted to 50 miles. As it was, I covered about 30 miles. Even with good footwear, my feet were sore and I developed two blisters. When I kept seeing people wearing thin, flimsy flipflops, I couldn't help but wonder how badly their feet hurt.

As chaperones we were tasked with ensuring that students stayed at the parks or nearby restaurants, and that they did not return to the hotel until after the nightly fireworks show. This policy was apparently developed years earlier to prevent certain problems that inevitably occur when you have several hundred teenagers staying a hotel.

On Thursday morning we had everyone pack their gear into the buses and check out of the hotel. They didn't receive their per diem until everything was ready to go. We walked to the parks as we had the previous two days, attended workshops and performances, rode attractions, and stuck around until midnight. There was no hotel to go back to. We had to wait until we met at a nearby restaurant, where the buses were ready to take us home. I noticed that lines for rides became much more manageable after 10 pm.

Tour members were pretty weary as we gathered. We had been going strong for three days straight. Some boarded as soon as the drivers opened the bus doors, although, the buses wouldn't leave for half an hour. All of the boys from my chaperone group were loaded and half of them were asleep by 12:10.

I had started coming down with a cold on Thursday morning. Chaperones couldn't go to bed until all of their students were in their rooms with no guests. We also had to be up early each morning to get ready in time to roll the students out of bed. That made for significant sleep deprivation. I found that I could maintain alertness via caffeinated soft drinks, but that the caffeine did nothing to provide the recovery that comes through restful sleep. I'm not a kid anymore, so this kind of thing takes its toll on me.

Fortunately we had no problems getting all of our tour members into their assigned seats on time. Folks had been in pretty high spirits when we left on Sunday night. That was all gone by 12:30 am on Friday. I was pretty much settled in by the time the bus turned onto the freeway entrance. I think I was asleep by the time the bus got onto the freeway seconds later. That's pretty much how it was for all of the passengers.

We again paused at a couple of big truck stops along the way. As we had on the way down, we switched bus drivers at one of those stops. I was still pretty tired when the bus pulled into a buffet restaurant in St. George, where we had breakfast. Nearly everyone went back to sleep between St. George and the truck stop in Fillmore. After leaving Fillmore we watched a Disney animated movie and part of a musical.

I was very happy when we pulled into the parking lot of the school. We had had no major problems on the trip. Things had gone pretty much as planned (according to the detailed itinerary developed by the drama director). We gathered our gear and headed home.

If your school is thinking about taking a trip like this, I'd suggest that the tour leader get in contact with our high school's drama director. His experience and organizational prowess would allow him to provide very useful tips.

People have asked me if I had fun on the trip. I tell them that I didn't go on the trip to have fun. Spending of week of precious vacation to hang out with 300 teenagers really isn't the funnest thing in the world. I went to make sure that my son could be safe while having fun. I was able to handle several situations to that end. It's not that I had no fun; I did. But that wasn't my goal.

I do this kind of stuff (including Scouting) so that I can help provide youth with worthwhile experiences. One reason for this is that others did this for me during my formative years. Also, seeing the faces of the youth light up and seeing them grow through their experiences is far more enjoyable than simply filling my personal fun bucket.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Help suicidal people with love, not condemnation

Recently I have seen a social media post going around that uses the hashtag #SuicideAwareness. It starts out with, "Wanna kill yourself? Imagine this." It then goes on to paint a horrible caricature of the impact an individual's suicide would have on the lives of others. Family members, friends, enemies, teachers, community members, etc. would end up with painfully shattered lives. The blame for this is laid squarely on the shoulders of the person considering suicide.

While the long post ends with encouragement such as, "Don’t end your life, you have so much to live for," and "I’m here for absolutely anyone that needs to talk, no matter who you are," the main gist of the post is that you are a bad person for contemplating suicide. It seems telling to me that I have mostly seen this post re-posted by people that have never personally grappled with suicidal thoughts in a serious way.

The post seems to have been written with good intentions. But I feel that it fails to comprehend the real reasons people become suicidal. It may actually encourage rather than discourage suicide. I am no expert on the subject but I have learned a thing or two from working with professionals that have helped loved ones who were suicidal.

Very few people that are suicidal really want to die. They find themselves in intense pain that seems inescapable. They feel that they are out of options. Nothing else they've tried has worked. Now they are down to their last option. Most already find that option horrifically distasteful. But they will take that route if there's no other way.

Of course this is an irrational approach. Of course there are other options. But a suicidal person's state of mind prevents them from comprehending those paths as viable alternatives.

Our son has confided to us that he has pulled back from the brink of suicide a number of times because he didn't want to cause his loved ones pain. This shows that the power of love is pretty strong. The referenced post plays on this innate human love, but it does so by using a shaming approach that seems detrimental to the intended message.

Most people contemplating suicide already know it's bad. Most already feel that they are bad for having suicidal thoughts. They don't want those thoughts but they can't get rid of them. It seems to me that making a suicidal person feel even worse for experiencing those pervasive thoughts is more likely to add to their pain, which already seems unbearable to them.

Years ago a young man in my young adult ward took his own life. I felt angry (a common stage of grief). In retrospect I can see that I was selfishly concerned about how this man's death impacted me. I have noticed that the referenced post usually pops up in the aftermath of a suicide. Maybe re-posting those hard words is a response to the anger stage of grief. So I guess it's understandable.

But I really wish people would learn more about suicide. People with suicidal thoughts don't need our anger or our judgment. They need help. The vast majority of people contemplating suicide can be saved with a little effort.

According to Mental Health America "Eight out of ten people considering suicide give some sign of their intentions." says that 80-90% of those that seek treatment are successfully treated. This means that there is hope.

If you become aware of someone exhibiting suicidal warning signs, stay with them and get treatment for them. Call the suicide hotline in your area, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), call 911, or accompany the person to a hospital emergency room. Do this even if it's socially awkward and even if you don't know the person well. You can save a life.

The National Institute of Mental Health says that warning signs include:
  • Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
  • Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
  • Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
  • Talking about great guilt or shame
  • Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
  • Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
  • Talking about being a burden to others
  • Using alcohol or drugs more often
  • Acting anxious or agitated
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
  • Talking or thinking about death often
  • Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
  • Giving away important possessions
  • Saying goodbye to friends and family
  • Putting affairs in order, making a will
Ask questions if you see any of these signs. Do not expect suicidal people to respond to a blanket invitation to chat. Be pro-active in asking questions.

Our family has learned that it's not just OK to ask blunt questions; it's necessary. People are sometimes afraid that asking direct questions about suicide might encourage suicidal thoughts, but research has found quite the opposite. Don't freak out and don't act judgmental. Act with care and concern. Some of the questions you can ask are:
  • Are you contemplating suicide?
  • Do you have a plan for harming yourself or taking your own life?
  • Do you have access to weapons, sharps, alcohol/drugs/chemicals, or other things that you might use to harm yourself?
  • Are you safe with yourself?
Let's face it; suicide is a scary topic. It hits lots of emotional and moral buttons all at once. We never like to have our lives touched by suicide. But the reality is that some people around us struggle with suicidal thoughts. We can't expect them to think rationally about the matter, so it's our duty to step up and help them. We are more likely to be successful when we approach this with loving concern.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Let the sun go down upon your wrath

I was livid. Not only had I been blamed for something that wasn't my fault, the accusation had been leveled in a public forum where I had little chance to defend myself. The heat of my ire was further stoked by the fact that I had clearly (in my mind) been the injured party. How dare anyone impugn my honor in such a manner?!

My first instinct was to jump into the fray with a fiery retort. That's what the natural man in me ached to do (see Mosiah 3:19). It's a good thing that I didn't have immediate access to the forum, because I would probably have followed that impulse. Doing so might have assuaged my carnal instinct to defend my reputation, but it would have led to nothing good.

Even as I fantasized about going the natural man route, I couldn't ignore the caution coming into my mind like a flashing warning light on a car dashboard accompanied by a dinging alarm. The words of Matthew 5:44 kept running through my mind, where The Savior says:
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.
My inner natural man retorted, "But I'm right! Being charitable doesn't mean failing to correct falsehoods. Charity and truth must coexist in the same realm." Which sounds very high minded. But in reality I was feeling very little in the way of charity at the moment. I was all about being right and having the appearance of being right to my neighbors. I knew that extending forgiveness when offended is the bridge a Christian must cross to obtain mercy. But I was so sure I was right that I didn't see a need to even approach that bridge.

I went on about my day, but the issue continued to fester like an unscratched itch. Thinking of how the Lord had instructed Oliver Cowdery to correct Hiram Page in private (D&C 28:11-12), I thought it would probably be best for me just to visit the claimant and bury the hatchet. Unfortunately my schedule was too full for that. Besides, I was too chicken to do it.

Recalling The Savior's admonition to quickly agree with our adversaries (Matthew 5:25) and Paul's counsel to the Ephesians not to let the sun go down upon our wrath (Ephesians 4:26), I felt I should do something about the matter right away.

Finally I decided to jot down some thoughts. I have found that writing helps me organize and analyze my own thinking. It doesn't reveal all my blind spots or grant complete objectivity, but it tends to nudge me in that direction; maybe because I start to think about what the words would look like to an outside party.

A letter formed as I wrote. The letter was cordial, but sharp and clear about what had actually happened. I'm not using sharp in that sentence as a synonym for clarity. I mean that the tone of the letter had a sharp edge to it.

I put the letter in an envelope. When I had a brief break in duties I made my way to the location of the person that had complained, intending to drop off the letter. But I just couldn't do it. Something didn't feel right about it.

The rest of the day and evening were completely scheduled. That helped push my anger to the back burner. But it didn't help me agree with my adversary quickly. Indeed, the sun went down upon my wrath. But now I'll tell you why that was a good thing.

I seldom have insomnia. But I awoke in the middle of the night and couldn't get back to sleep. So I prayed and listened. A quiet whisper told me that I needed to shred the letter I had written. In my mind's eye I was able to catch an inkling of how the situation in question must have appeared to the other person. My anger evaporated when I realized that I could easily have responded similarly had I been in their shoes. As I pondered I came to understand that it would be OK for me to write a letter, but that every single phrase needed to be composed with the thought, "What would Jesus say?"

My biting letter met the shredder early the next day. After the busy hours of the day, I sat down to compose a new letter. I still felt hurt about being accused in public, even if it was all a misunderstanding. Still, I focused on writing words Jesus would write. The end result was still probably far from that goal, but the conciliatory letter was devoid of counter accusations. I asked for the other person's help to improve. By the time I finished with best wishes for this person and their family, I truly meant it with complete sincerity.

On my way to deliver the note I had a spiritual prompting telling me not to deliver it without attaching a treat. In fact, a pretty clear picture of a specific treat formed in my head. (Still not sure why that specific treat was needed.) I knew that this didn't come from my personal genius, because it's not something I would naturally do. Delivering treat laden notes seems more like something women are prone to do.

I needed to make a run to the store anyway, so obtaining the treat was included in that errand. The Spirit even prodded me to do something to make the package a little more beautiful. After dropping off the package I was filled with charity toward the individual. I felt good, warm, and light. Although I had no idea how the matter would turn out, I knew I had done the right thing.

A couple of days later I was approached by the recipient of my note. We had a very nice chat. In fact, I would say that it was a beautiful experience. I learned some things about this person that I had not known and I felt a strong desire to find a way to serve them. There is a deep goodness in this person.

Sometimes we read only the last part of Ephesians 4:26, where Paul essentially tells us to get over our anger quickly. In KJV the first part of this scripture says, "Be angry, but sin not." The JST, however, renders this portion of the verse, "Can ye be angry, and not sin?" This seems more consistent with Paul's directive to overcome our anger quickly.

Brigham Young said, "There is a wicked anger, and there is a righteous anger. The Lord does not suffer wicked anger to be in his heart...." Most of the time when I'm angry, it's not the kind of anger that is approved by the Holy Ghost. Quite the opposite. Unrighteous anger is sin. Brigham Young likened these kinds of strong emotions to wild horses that must be properly controlled. He said:
Some think and say that it makes them feel better when they are mad, as they call it, to give vent to their madness.... This, however, is a mistake. Instead of its making you feel better, it is making bad worse.
Anger is often likened to fire because it feels like that inside. And burn it does. Like a wildfire, it burns up precious moments and relationships, leaving behind scorched patches of soul that may take years to regenerate.

While I very much appreciate Paul's words about quelling this fire quickly, in my case it seems like letting the sun go down upon my wrath was the right thing to do this time around. Taking time to respond in a more appropriate manner allowed the sun of wrath to set and the cool of the night to put out the fire.

What I'm really describing here is repentance. Although I felt I was right when my anger initially flared, I knew inside that my passionate indignation was not virtuous. It took me a while to admit it. By praying I enabled Christ to extinguish my sin of anger. By following the Spirit's promptings, The Savior was able to change my heart. The ill will I felt completely gave way to sacred charity.

Changing hearts to become more like His is one of the greatest miracles Jesus Christ can perform, thanks to His atonement. How grateful I am that this miracle is accessible to each of us as often as we need it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Must We Use Thee, Thou, Thy, and Thine In Sacred Settings?

Our ward choir was recently practicing a version of the hymn Lead, Kindly Light. A brother who is a few years my senior leaned over and asked, "What is a garish day?"

The entry says that garish can mean crudely or tastelessly colorful, lurid, etc. Not being able to think of that at the moment, I said, "It's like a day at Lagoon," referring to a well known local amusement park. I added, "Or most Super Bowl halftime shows." Seeing that my brief explanation lacked clarity, I said, "It's a day of worldliness. The author suggests that he used to like that kind of thing but that he now finds contentment in humbly following God."

While the choir women were working on their part, I had a moment to review the lyrics of this well known hymn. Although another friend of mine says that this is one of his favorite hymns, it has never been a favorite of mine. I realized that at least part of the reason for this is demonstrated by the question posed by my choir brother.

This man is an intelligent person. He is well versed in art and has a deep love for many master works that depict faith, especially paintings. Yet he found it difficult to understand some of the archaic language in this hymn.

All cultures and subcultures have unique language forms; even fictional cultures. Anyone that has read Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, or better yet, The Silmarillion, has had to grapple with unfamiliar terms and linguistic constructs. Star Wars is rife with unique vocabulary. In the real world, many sources, including the Encyclopedia of Mormonism, recognize peculiar Mormon language usage.

So maybe it's OK that Mormons have some antiquated hymn lyrics and scriptures in Early Modern English, and are encouraged to use EME forms in prayer (see Dallin H. Oaks, April 1993 general conference talk).

On the other hand, I admit that I am at least somewhat sympathetic to complaints that retaining outmoded language forms in prayers and congregational hymns renders these forms of worship inaccessible to an increasing number of English speaking worshipers and potential worshipers.

While I don't foresee modernization of the language used in English editions of LDS canonized scripture anytime soon, let's be honest about the fact that this language will always remain a secondary language to nearly all faithful English speaking Latter-day Saints. Moreover, it will become increasingly foreign to English speakers as Modern English continues to evolve.

I will try to explain why I think this is significant. The most common EME forms people (try to) use in prayer are the pronouns thee, thou, thy, and thine. These were originally the informal versions of the formal you, your, and yours. That is, a person would use thee, thou, thy, and thine when addressing close family members and associates. (This usage has been obsolete for about four centuries now.)

My father was a visionary man. As the result of a number of spiritual experiences, he was able to explain to me that in the premortal life we had a very intimate relationship with Heavenly Father. He said that endearing terms such as Daddy or Papa would be the closest words in our language to describe how each of us related to our Eternal Father in that realm.

Prayer is intended to access that intimate link between child and Eternal Parent. So it would seem best when praying to use language that is most respectfully accessible to us, avoiding language that interferes with that close relationship. Joseph B. Wirthlin advised worrying "about speaking from your heart" in prayer, rather than worrying about the wording of the prayer.

While using currently familiar language might be appropriate for personal prayers, what about prayers said in public? Shouldn't we strive to use the EME forms then? We should probably strive for something like that, since that's what you see modeled in general conference and other meetings where general authorities and officers pray. But it's an acquired skill.

Hardly a Sunday goes by that I don't hear an otherwise erudite adult utter some kind of cringe worthy awkward phrasing in an attempt to use EME forms in public prayer. Hardly a public prayer is said (at least where I attend church) where EME forms are employed correctly. How many generally intelligent people really know how to say, "Wilt Thou please...," "...that Thou wouldst...," and the like?

While it is incumbent upon us as Christians to tolerate the inadvertent foibles of others, this kind of stilted phrasing seems more inclined to alienate us from Deity rather than drawing us closer into our relationship with God. Moreover, it causes people to avoid praying in public for fear of stumbling over unfamiliar phrases that they believe are required. Can't we just focus more on genuinely loving God when we pray publicly rather than trying to use wording that seems weird to us?

I would say that hymns with obsolete language will soon fall out of usage. Except Latter-day Saints seem to have a great love for the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing, despite the hymn being omitted from the most recent edition of the Church's hymnbook. The lyrics include a fair amount of outdated language. How many people know what "Here I raise my Ebenezer" means? Yet modern people seem to love the hymn because it speaks to their wandering souls.

I suppose what I am saying is that I'm not a purist on this issue. That's because I feel that it's generally not the language forms that are essential; it's the relationships with God and fellow souls that are imperative. That's where our focus should be: doing what draws us closer and more lovingly into these relationships.

So, the next time you hear someone in church pray using modern familiar language, just chill and feel what the Holy Spirit has to say on the subject. I'm certain that God loves it when faithful people humbly pray to Him, whatever language forms they use.

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 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.