Thursday, October 17, 2013

Feat #14: Over the River and Through the Woods

And up and up and up the side of a snowy mountain.  

On this most stunning October day, with a bright blue sky and sun shining, Dad and I headed up trail #007 on the back side of Maple Mountain. Eight miles round trip. We didn't make it all the way to the peak due to snow conditions, but we got high enough to see some amazing views.

At the trail head:

Still happy after the first couple of miles.

Then we hit snow. Which wasn't too bad, but it did make the going harder. It helped that the temperature reached into the 50s by afternoon, which was downright balmy for a hike.

Through the towering pines!

Sadly, our pictures at our highest point were all washed out, probably because of all the glaring white snow. Trust me, it was spectacular.

And I wish we'd been able to get a picture of one moment during our descent when we were walking through an aspen grove and the wind picked up. All of a sudden we were showered with a magical frenzy of gold and green as hundreds of leaves fluttered to the ground.

Hiking with my 76-year-old father gives me much hope that there will be life in me after 50, though I confess, I had a bit of trouble keeping up with him. I think that means I need to get out there more.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Feat (Lucky) #13: Y?

Nana and Gramps are in town for a visit. Just the excuse I needed to hike to the Y painted on the side of the mountain above BYU. I haven't made the climb since finals week at the end of my freshman year. 

It's not a long hike (only 1.75 miles round trip), but it's pretty steep. An 1,100 foot elevation climb. Nana made a good go of it all the way to the third switchback. Gramps, Jack, and I continued up the trail. Eleven switchbacks in all.

The fall colors were spectacular!

It sprinkled on us part of the way, but the sun was still shining. We did see one faint rainbow, but it wasn't strong enough to get a good picture.

The view out over the valley on the way up as the sun began to set was exactly what we'd hoped it would be.

We made it to the giant Y just after the sun set.

The twilight views on the way back down made the whole adventure just about perfect.

Friday, October 11, 2013

A Sacred Moment

I've debated telling this story for a long time because it is hardly my story. But I feel moved to tell it, especially today. I hope the man in this story, who I will call Tom, won't mind that I have. If he ever finds it here and recognizes himself, I hope that he remembers me well enough to know my intentions come from a deep place within my heart.

Over the past few years I've run into Tom a number of times. The first time I met him was in a job readiness seminar at the Adult Probation & Parole office. He struck me as serious minded, focused on putting his life together. The next time I saw him, he was wearing a jumpsuit, sitting in the class I teach at the jail. Every few months I met with him. He left, then came back again for a time.

One day Tom told me his background.

He grew up in the LDS church, knowing there was something different about him and believing it wasn't okay. He stuffed down his feelings. He went to BYU, got married, had children. Began stuffing down his feelings with food. Gained a dangerous amount of weight. Had surgery. Could no longer stuff down his feelings with food, so he turned to alcohol. Eventually his marriage ended. He was nearly 40 when he allowed himself to accept that he was gay. He'd only barely started coming out to people the year before I met him. He felt his family members were, at best, unsupportive.

Everything fell apart, and then fell apart some more.

We sat in the interview room. His anguish was palpable. He had told me his story in hopes that I could find information about programs or organizations that help people in his particular situation to make a fresh start. We looked some things up, then I asked him if I could show him a short video.

We watched this.

By the end, Tom had tears streaming down his face. He could not believe it was possible. Not that BYU students could make a video like that without repercussions. I assured him it was. And though we didn't talk about it, I imagined he had also not believed it was possible that he could love himself or that the God he believed in could love him.

I have no idea where Tom is now or what he is doing, but I am not exaggerating when I say that meeting with him that day was one of the most meaningful experiences I've ever had. And it breaks my heart that he's not the only one who has lived or will live in that hell.

As my friend Christian says, "Closets are no place for children of God."

Update: In re-reading this, I realize that I inadvertently painted Tom as someone who is always serious or unhappy. The part of the story that is missing from this post is that most of my exchanges with Tom were positive and forward-thinking. He often had a smile on his face, and one of his dreams was to own a small neighborhood bakery. As you can imagine, I'm a big fan of small neighborhood businesses. We had some happy conversations about how he could achieve that.

Please, Let Us In

I'm not sure why Brandon Mull's Fablehaven sat on our bookshelf for so long before Jack and I picked it up to read together. We even have an advanced reading copy that came out before it was published in 2006. We're about halfway through and have found it hard to put down at night.

And I've even met Brandon Mull as I've worked at various events, including a writing conference for kids at our high school and a presentation he gave at our library. Extraordinarily nice person.

When we started reading the book, I remembered an incident that happened when he came to the library. Over the past few years, I've thought about it from time to time, trying to untangle it.

Somehow I ended up standing guard at the front door of the library after we closed that Saturday afternoon. Quite a few people were still inside, standing in line to get their books signed. As a volunteer, I was instructed to turn away anyone who tried to come in. Before I was left alone at my post, a number people showed up to meet Brandon and the library director wouldn't let them in. The line was drawn.

A few minutes later, a mom and her kids showed up. She said they'd been at the event earlier and had to run home to tend to a sick child. I saw her son's pleading face. But we'd already turned people away. It wouldn't be fair to them to make an exception. I also knew first hand what is was like to be at the managing end of an event like this, trying not to impose too heavily on a well known author's time. Brandon Mull was already being gracious by staying much later than planned for us.

So I didn't let them in. (I still hate the feeling I had at that moment.)

Another few minutes passed, and the mother and children showed up with a senior library employee. He let them in, and apologized for overriding my decision. She looked directly at me. I'd like to think she wasn't glaring. I wonder if she knew that I wasn't offended at all. I was just really happy her son would meet Brandon and have his book signed.

As someone without authority, I was following orders. It took someone with authority to make a different call.

I will continue thinking about this incident from time to time, trying to untangle it.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

What I Do (When I Remember To)

An average Wednesday of remembering and doing and thinking and forgetting.

Just before Jack and I left for school this morning, Roger calls. Trouble with the Jeep. He's turning around to bring it home. Can I drop him off at work on my way to class? Sure!

Arrive on campus. Park in far-flung student parking. No room at the inn in the employee parking lots. Run into one of my students and immediately feel sheepish carrying the bag from McDonald's that held my breakfast. It was not horribly sinful--an Egg McMuffin sans bacon--but we had recently discussed Super Size Me in class and she had been most vocal about avoiding fast food.

Hang out in the faculty room in the library. Consider using my time wisely. Make a hopeful start by printing an article I need to re-read and annotate for class later (which I wouldn't have had to do if I had remembered the copy I left on the printer at home). Then get distracted by googling a high school English teacher that had been the subject of a freaky coincidence this week. Find his email address, so of course I write to him to thank him for influencing me for good. Have to proofread the email multiple times before clicking send because, well, high school English teacher. Hang out online until it's time for class.

First class. Finish up the second half of a two-day presentation full of song and dance about grammar, punctuation and exciting things like easily confused words (such as affect and effect) and active vs. passive voice. Got extra credit points from my students for showing the Jimmy Fallon/Justin Timblerlake hashtag bit (#evolvingusage).

Back to the faculty room to read the article we are going to discuss in my next class. I have to be done by noon because I've got a committee meeting for an upcoming conference on writing for social change. The article is mostly about the history of and issues with Skinner's behavior modification theory and partly about the development of apps to help people lose weight. While I make physical notes for class, I also make mental notes about how to move forward with the possible development of an app to help people who have been caught up in the criminal justice system.

Finish up by noon, but I forget about the meeting and head straight to my classroom. I walk in and none of my students are there. Another instructor is at the front of the room. I am all disoriented. I look at the clock. Oh, right, noon. Meeting.

Head to the meeting room. No one is there. Check my email. Meeting cancelled. Found time! I get a few things done. Check email for my other job. Discover a meeting at the county commission office is re-scheduled for Tuesday afternoon. I definitely don't want to miss it. Not sure what that means for the plans I have with my parents, who will be in town then. Hang out online until it's time for class.

Finally, class. Good discussion from the few who participate. Hopefully the rest listen, because they've got to write a paper, synthesizing the ideas presented in the documentaries we watched and the article we read. We talk about the balance between our environment and our own free will. We talk about the role individuals, parents, business, and government play in shaping environments. Stories emerge that help us illuminate the issues. School lunch changes at Spanish Fork High. Fast food restaurants surrounding Provo High. Selling alcohol at the Walmart in Cedar Hills. Owning backyard chickens in Springville.

Hike to another part of campus to meet someone in the placement office to invite him to a meeting I'm attending tomorrow about organizing a job fair to help people with a criminal record find work. I've been meaning to do this for at least three weeks. Decide to walk up four industrial-size flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator because I don't think I'll have time to exercise later. He's nice. He will come to the meeting and share his expertise.

Hike the long distance back to my car. Good. Another bit of exercise. In fact a little more than I expected because I can't find the car straightaway. Call Roger while I'm searching to keep myself entertained. He tells me he's made an appointment to get the Jeep fixed on Monday.

Drive to the bank to deposit checks that have been sitting on my desk since July. True story. Our bank just isn't convenient. Our account pre-dates our move to the town we live in and we don't have a local branch there. But we like our bank.

Stop by the Volkswagon dealer to have our coolant topped off. The dashboard panel has been sending warnings the last few days. The service department is extremely nice. No charge. Use the time to make notes for an essay I am writing about chickens. Well, not chickens exactly. But chickens will illustrate the point I really want to make.

Decide that since I had already missed being home when Jack got home from school like I usually am, I'd run a few more errands. Call Jack. He's fine.

Stop by the Stouffer's outlet to stock up on cheap, easy frozen food. Sadly, no French bread pizza for Jack. But, mmm, Asiago Cheese Tortellini? Yes, please.

Stop by to see an elderly neighbor. I was supposed to go last night to help her take off her pressure socks, which she's not supposed to sleep in. I completely forgot. Wanted to apologize in person. She just laughs. Luckily someone else helped her out. I promise her I will not forget next Tuesday. She laughs again.

Finally get home. Jack's hanging out with friends. I tell them they need to empty the trash if it's so full the lid doesn't close. (I do say hi first.) I take care of the sink full of dishes while my cheap, easy frozen dinner is in the microwave and my organic frozen whole green beans that I buy in a giant bag at Costco are steaming in a pot.

Check stuff online while I eat dinner. Decompress. Engage in Facebook conversations about stock market investments and about the impact of e-books on the publishing world and about chickens. Create an event page for next week's "So You Want To Read" lecture at the Springville Library that I will host. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Can't wait to hear what our presenter says about the book.

Talk to Roger in passing when he gets home from work. Head to a shift at the jail. I always think I can make it there by 6:00, but never do. Check inmate messages. Meet with inmates about planning for their release. We talk about everything from applying for student aid to finding 12-step meetings to finding food to eat.

Get home pretty late. Enjoy the fact that I don't have to set an alarm tomorrow because it is Fall Break. Chat with Roger. Eat an apple. Read to Jack. We love the book we're reading together right now. Think about writing a blog post about it. Maybe tomorrow. Tomorrow I will likely procrastinate grading papers just like I do today.

Stay up far too late writing this. Roger should be asleep. He had to set his alarm. No Fall Break for him.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

A Lesson

My bike ride on the west side of Utah Lake the other day turned out to be more than just a bike ride.

I was planning to spend the time thinking about a lesson I was preparing to teach the following day for the teenage girls at church. The lesson was about becoming more like Jesus--to learn about who he was, how he moved through this world, how he engaged with people, and to emulate that.

Nearly 30 miles of road stretched before me. Plenty of time to think, I thought.

Instead, I was distracted by a few steep hills, trying to pace myself and breathe evenly, negotiating curves, a strong headwind, passing traffic, sun in my eyes. I also didn't want to miss the spectacular views of the lake and the mountains beyond.

Then, about 20 miles in, as I reached the southern end of the lake, the road straightened and flattened. The best views were behind me. I found myself inside my head. "This ride," I realized with sudden epiphany, "Is a metaphor for so many of the things I want to talk with the girls about tomorrow."

The road I was following in the hope that I'd have the wherewithal to finish was the path Jesus modeled for us. The hills and curves he dealt with in his own life revealed his capacity for empathy and compassion, for understanding the challenges of others. The strong headwind was the opposition he faced, the willful misunderstanding, and the weak faith of even his most faithful disciples, all requiring patience and diligence. The cars and trucks I had to share the road with were the throngs of people who wanted to hear him and be blessed by him--people his disciples often tried to protect him from, but of whom he always charitably said "let them come" or "let them stay."

Whenever I could, I looked out across the lake. Sometimes I was rewarded with the perfect reflection of snowy peaks on the glassy surface of the water. Glimpses of heaven.

Once, when the road turned and I was heading directly into the sun for a few miles, I had to concentrate hard to follow the white line along the shoulder. The blinding sun became the anger and hurt that keeps us from truly seeing ourselves and others in a way that enables us to forgive, to love with the pure love of Christ. Finally, another bend and I could see clearly again.

The last 10 miles, when the road became straight and flat, was my time in the wilderness. My mind was stilled, and I gained spiritual clarity. But I was also getting tired and hungry.

"And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted of Satan; and was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto him" (Mark 1:13).

Just over six miles to go, and I saw Roger and Jack parked by the side of the road waiting for me. "Oh, please," I hoped. "Maybe they will ask me if I want to stop and get a ride." The idea was sorely tempting. Instead, Jack pulled his bike out of the back of the truck and joined me. My ministering angel.

But becoming more like Jesus isn't just about following a road, peddling so many miles, or climbing so many hills. It's about transformation. About being different. About seeing more.

Later that evening as I drove to work, the sun was setting. Brilliantly orange clouds stretched over the mountains to the west, the length of the lake. In my eyes, none of it was the same as it had always been and it would never be again.