Recently Learned

Over the past month I’ve discovered a few things about myself.

I do my best work under pressure.

The writing I’m most proud of uncovers pain.

Joy begins with being honest with myself.

Faking it hurts me more than anyone else.

Saying something is true doesn’t make it so.

Question everything. Respect everyone.

Be skeptical of those proclaiming one truth.

Few skills in life are as valuable as being able to say “no”.

If you don’t learn to think critically, others will think for you.

True friends don’t put requirements on the relationship.

Facts speak louder than feelings.

Feelings can be easily manipulated.

Nothing of Consequence

Everyone is dealing with something.

Often it’s something noticeable like eating healthier or quitting a bad habit like smoking. A few years back I decided to exercise each day and eat a healthier diet. Over a few months I dropped nearly 60 lbs. The change I had made to myself was easy to recognize. Friends and coworkers encouraged me. I recall one office gathering where someone ordered pizza for everyone. The office manager knew I was trying to eat better ordered a salad for me instead.

But what if you’re working on something that’s not visible? Maybe not only is it not visible but amorphous and difficult to put into words?

When you’re trying to lose weight or quit smoking it’s not uncommon for a group of supporters to morph into your personal cheering section. They are on the lookout for anyone or anything that might cause a setback. But they have your back and are ready to jump in on your behalf to keep you focused and progressing towards your goal. Sure, you want to meet your goal but you also don’t want to disappoint this group.

We are all dealing with something, and chances are it’s something internal. Maybe you’ve shared it with a spouse or close friend. Or you put out feelers to see if it’s even safe to share. That’s what I do, but it’s not easy to determine if the coast is clear. When you share you open yourself up to scrutiny. You feel vulnerable. You could lose a friend.

With so many outlets like Facebook and Twitter to share ideas or passions or even the mundane, I find myself sharing less about the stuff that really matters to me. I tend to joke around or share a quote from one of my children. Nothing of consequence.

Knowing that others are working on issues provides comfort. I could always tell when a good friend of mine had something on his mind. I’d ask him what was going on and he’d reply that he was working an issue over in his mind. To this day, I have no idea what he was dealing with and never pushed for details.

I need to find one of those friends again. One who doesn’t live 1200 miles away.

Losing a Friend

A German once told me that a person never has more friends than fingers on one hand.  To a 20-year old, that seemed absurdly low.

But today it feels on the high side because I recently lost a friend. Recently, is my interpretation because it’s possible this person checked out a while back, and I just didn’t realize it.

Losing a friend at any age is no fun. Yet this one stings because I have no idea what happened. For the past six months I’ve been trying to recreate the last time we saw each other. Was it something I said that day? Was it something I posted to Facebook or my blog that caused the rift? I’m at a loss.

The worst part is that I lost a good friend. A close second is not knowing why.

I’ve tried to reach out to this person on a number of occasions. I would like know what happened, but maybe that’s selfish. But I’m finished kicking myself over something I may or may not have done.

I’m still bummed about it though. This was my friend I could talk about what it was like going through a divorce and he understood because he’d gone through the same.

I find that the older I get, the more difficult it becomes to make friends. I don’t trust people as quickly, and I don’t get out as much to meet new people.

I suspect that not knowing why may not be the second worst part of losing a friend. That would be running into the friend and realizing he hadn’t given much thought to the situation.

Rehashing the Weather

Find people you can be yourself around. That’s where you’ll find the most happiness.

It sounds so simple. It even sounds trite. But it’s true.

Most people take this to matter most when selecting friendships, but it matters just as much when choosing where to work, attend school or even church.

For two years I decided to morph into another person when dealing with my mission president in Germany. I quickly learned what he wanted to hear and then I regurgitated that each time I had to speak to him. I wasn’t myself. I never told him what was on my mind. By being honest with him I risked getting ripped to shreds so I kept each meeting as short as possible by telling him exactly what he wanted to hear. Then I walked out the doors and did what my heart told me to do.

I recall well the last meeting I had with him. I was unable to contain my joy, and when my mission president asked me why I was grinning I finally had the guts to tell him it was due to never having to speak to him again.

I’ve had a few jobs where the boss only wanted to hear the good news. Good news was always welcome, and if someone had bad news, it was best kept to oneself. I saw what happened to messengers bearing bad news and learned from their mistakes. Bring good news or don’t bring any news at all!

Contrast that with Bill Gates who once said the goal of any CEO was to create an environment where bad news flowed to the top in a hurry so it could be acted upon.

Some of my friends laugh when I tell them my in-laws live next door. That’s usually followed by, “Wow, I could never live that close to mine!”

But what they don’t understand is that my in-laws are some of the most non-judgmental people I’ve ever met. They have had their fair share of trials with their own children. But even before I knew that, they accepted me into their family. I’ve made a number of bone-headed mistakes while married to their daughter, yet I never been lectured or frowned upon. Instead they look for the good in me. No wonder I fell for the youngest daughter they raised.

If you find yourself discussing the weather or rehashing the past each time you hook up with a friend it might be worth asking yourself, why?

Until Proven Otherwise

“I’d have a better chance of finding a boyfriend in church than a bar, but we both know that’s not happening.”

“Well, then, good luck!”

As I stood in line at the grocery story tonight I caught the tail end of a conversation between the checker and the young man bagging my groceries. I finished setting  the last 2-liter of Diet Coke on the counter and pushed my card through the check stand.

When I told the checker I did not have a rewards card she asked if I was from out-of-town. When mentioned I’d recently moved from the Seattle area she began nodding her head and pulled two more tellers into the conversation.

“I’ll bet nobody in Seattle cares about religion, right? I mean, isn’t that how it should be?”

All I could do was smile, collect my receipt, and head for the door as everyone within a 15 foot radius was chiming in with their opinions on the difficulty of finding love in Utah as a non-Mormon.

Although I spent the first 26 years of my life in Utah, I’d forgotten how much Mormon influence is woven into the fabric of everyday life here. When I met my daughter’s middle school counselor for the first time, he asked, “So your daughter must be a beehive?”  And less than two minutes into my haircut, my barber asked, “What ward are you in?”

“What ward are you in?” in Utah is the same as “How are you doing?” anywhere else.

You’re a Mormon until proven otherwise.

Kim and I both understood this well before we decided to move to St. George. Our children made many friends in Seattle, and few of them were Mormon, yet we seldom thought much about it. Sure, there was the occasional birthday party on Sunday that would bring our beliefs to the forefront when our kids explained to their friends that Sundays were time to spend at church and with family.

As Luca would say, “That’s not fair.”

One of our reasons for returning to Utah was to be closer to friends and family. Our children are able to spend a lot of their days with cousins and grandparents and friends who have similar beliefs. I doubt we’ll have to decline many birthday parties or youth sports because they were scheduled on Sunday.

The kids have already made friends who belong to other religions and we’ll continue to encourage them to that end. I don’t know how it will all turn out. The diversity of Seattle was a major reason we decided to stay there for 16 years. It almost feels like the polar opposite of Utah in terms of religious influence on the culture.

Maybe next time I’m at the grocery store I’ll seek out the same checker I had tonight and tell her about the college wards.

Then again, that might guarantee she remains single or flees the state.  

Put Into Words

It took me a moment to realize something was wrong.

I parked our car in the garage,  unfastened the straps that were holding our 2-year old daughter in her car seat and stepped inside our home. I assumed she’d follow me as she had before.

We’d returned home from church, and were hungry and tired from staying up late the night before. It would take a couple of minutes before Kim and I realized Luca had not followed either of us into the house.

I ran to the garage to see if she was still in the car while Kim ran out the front door, thinking she may have wandered into our yard.  When I didn’t find Luca in the garage I ran out through our back door to help Kim search our yard. Still no Luca.

Kim and I met near the entrance to our home and then ran to the street. Several of our neighbors saw us and came to help. We searched up and down our street which connects to a maze of neighborhoods, but could find no sign of our daughter.

I can’t imagine a worse feeling than what I felt at that moment. One minute Luca was in her car seat and the next minute she’s gone. By this time Kim and I were frantic.

More neighbors joined in the search including one man and his two sons. I went back into our home to make sure she hadn’t fallen asleep somewhere we hadn’t searched. When I couldn’t find her I decided to check the backyard again which had plenty of places for her to hide.

As I ran back around to the front of our home, I recall thinking I should call the police.

But when I came around the side of our home, I noticed our neighbor slowing driving his truck towards our home. His two sons were walking behind the truck, and one of them was holding the hand of our daughter, and she was OK.

What I hadn’t initially noticed was our three year old boxer named Elka, walking alongside Luca.

Our neighbor pulled up and mentioned how he’d found Luca a few blocks away walking down the middle of the road in search of who knows what. He explained that Elka walked alongside our daughter and wouldn’t leave her when he and his boys approached. 

Elka_Nightt

As a parent a few lucky breaks here and there are always welcome. I had made a major mistake in not accompanying my daughter into our home, but our boxer had acted as her guardian angel that day.

Elka was loved before this incident, but she endeared herself to our family that day.

Today a tumor took her life two months shy of her 13th birthday. We knew this day was coming, and I thought I’d be prepared for it, but it hurts more than I can put into words tonight.

“Your Insurance Didn’t Cover It”

“Four hundred and thirty dollars.”

“How much was that again?”

“Four hundred and thirty dollars. Your insurance didn’t cover it.”

Although it’s easy for me to point out mistakes I’ve made as a father, I’ve always been able to provide for my family. I’ve kept a roof over our heads and food on the table along with the basic necessities of life. With each child we’ve brought into our family we’ve made adjustments to our budget and helped set expectations with our children on a realistic number of activities in which they can participate.

There are times I wish I could do more for them. Between church and school activities we’ve had to limited the number of sport leagues and music lessons we can handle in any one season. It’s as much a time commitment as it is a budget issue. But there are times when we don’t have the money to pay for camps or lessons so we must be creative in finding alternative outlets for our children’s energy and creativity.

Kim and I both grew up in middle class families. Her father worked as an IT administrator and my father spend over thirty years teaching and coaching at a high school. We both had what we needed, but didn’t grow up in families where the children were showered with expensive clothing and new cars waiting for them at age 16.

I don’t recall my father ever buying a new car until most of the kids were gone. My parents drove hand-me-down vehicles from grandparents or bought used cars. I recall looking through the blinds on our front window and watching my father pull a used station wagon into the carport when I was 13 or 14. My sisters and I ran outside and celebrated like my father had won a Ferrari.

As frugally as we lived, I never recall a time when we didn’t expect to receive the best health care possible. We didn’t postpone visits to the doctor or dentist. As a young boy, I required stiches over a dozen times. My father never tried to close a wound with Super Glue or apply a Butterfly bandage and call it good. I never heard, “Let’s avoid the high co-pay of the emergency room tonight and see our primary doctor in the morning.”

If we needed to see a doctor we made an appointment. If medication was available that could ease pain, we had it. We may have shaved a few dollars off our grocery bill by shopping for store brands, but didn’t shave pennies when it came to seeing the doctor.

This brings me to last weekend. More specifically, to the four hundred and thirty dollars.

That was the cost of one bottle of pills someone in our family needed. Although we pay over $500/month in health insurance premiums, our insurance didn’t cover a dime towards the pills. I’m certain this very situation plays itself out thousands of times a day in pharmacies around the US.

As Kim and I sat in our car at the drive-thru pharmacy, we didn’t spend more than five seconds making a decision to skip the meds. It wasn’t a difficult decision because we didn’t have the money.

I suppose we can debate the condition and affordability of health care in the United State all night. But that’s not why I decided to write this.

I decided to write this down tonight because this experience, at the drive-thru pharmacy, is the first time I’ve felt that maybe I can’t provide my family with the care they need.

And it feels just as strange to admit that.