Saturday, December 10, 2016

I Am Haunted By Waters

American Author, Norman Maclean ended his novel, A River Runs Through It, with this simple sentence: "I am haunted by waters."

I, too, am haunted by waters. I could stare at a river or stream for hours. There is something about moving water—much like fire—that captivates my heart and soul. It takes me back to Alaska, where I was born.

In September of 2009, I actually travelled back to Alaska and drove all around that "last frontier." I would frequently stop at rivers and streams to watch the water. As I watched, I would inevitably see a host of red salmon, swimming against the current.

I think those memories of the red salmon were burned into my soul. Their journey fascinates me. They are born in the upper reaches of rivers, they then swim downstream and live most of their lives in the ocean. Then, at some point in their lives, they feel the need to go home—this pull to return to the place where they were born. Using their sense of smell (or perhaps magnetoception), they locate their natal river, swim upstream, return home, and spawn. Shortly thereafter, the salmon die. But their sacrifice gave birth to new life.

I often think about the salmon run in relation to life. As I've said before, It is my firm belief that we are all pilgrims on the earth—that we are all trying to find our way back to our heavenly home.

The salmon run is, perhaps, the most vivid illustration of my philosophy. We, like the salmon, are busy exploring this world . . . and yet something inside of us is calling us home. If we heed that call, we will most certainly be asked to do difficult things and swim upstream. And yes, this journey will most certainly result in our death—or, at least, a death of the life we have known. But that death will invariably lead to an abundance of life.

Do you hear the call?

If so, you are haunted by waters.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Winston Churchill and Depression

My guide through life has always been Sir Winston Churchill (1874–1965), the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during World War II. His active and steadfast resistance to Adolf Hitler, along with his vehement refusal to even consider defeat, helped inspire his nation to victory against Nazi Germany. His strength of character and his determination to never give up—even in the most dire circumstances—has made him one of the greatest leaders the world has ever known.

Churchill was also a very funny man. As some of you are aware, Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt were actually very good friends. Once, while Churchill was staying at the White House, President Roosevelt decided to stop by Churchill’s room. The Prime Minister, who had just finished taking a bath, was pacing back and forth in his room—completely naked. When Roosevelt rolled into the room and saw Churchill in the buff, Churchill calmly replied, "You see, Mr. President, I have nothing to hide from you." [Source: TIME]

Winston Churchill and Depression

But there was something that Churchill did hide from the world—he struggled with what he called “the black dog” of depression. Researchers and biographers have since diagnosed him as someone who struggled with major episodes of depression. Of Churchill’s battle with depression, psychiatrist Anthony Storr said this: “Only a man who knew what it was to discern a gleam of hope in a hopeless situation, whose courage was beyond reason, and whose aggressive spirit burned at its fiercest when he was hemmed in and surrounded by enemies, could have given emotional reality to the words of defiance which rallied and sustained us [during World War II].” [Source: NAMI]

The full weight of Europe on his shoulders. He was, in many respects, a lone man standing against the full onslaught of Adolf Hitler—one of the most evil men in history. In studying Churchill’s life—his victories and defeats, along with his emotional obstacles and personal challenges—I am perpetually amazed by his indomitable will to fight his way forward. In a speech delivered to the House of Commons on June 4, 1940, Churchill rallied his beleaguered nation with these words:
“We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Consider the context of these words. Not only was Churchill leading the charge against Nazi Germany, he was simultaneously leading a personal charge against his own depression. With this in mind, the following phrase (one of his most famous quotes) is given even more power and meaning:
Me next to the Churchill statue in London.
“Never give in—never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.”
While writing about depression, I have felt discouraged many times. The process of creating books and blog posts about it has caused many different thoughts, feelings, and experiences to resurface. Some of these have been good, but most of them have been very difficult to recall. I am often confronted with feelings of despondency, depression, and insecurity. After all, I begin to think who am I? Who am I that the world should care what I have to say? But in these moments of self-doubt, I have often looked at a photograph in my office of Winston Churchill. He doesn’t look back at me. Instead, he looks forward, into some distant horizon—as if to say, “Never give in. Keep moving forward.”

Please consider this incredible irony: Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt are two leaders who faced tremendous challenges. One of them struggled with the darkness of depression; the other was bound to a wheelchair. Had they grown up in Nazi Germany, Hitler would have had both men exterminated for their imperfections. And yet, these two men—these two imperfect people—moved forward, and together, they defeated a darkness which had swept across Europe.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Are You Terrible or Blessed?

In Moscow, Russia, at the far end of Red Square, stands the iconic and beautiful St. Basil's Cathedral. There is a tragic, thought-provoking story behind this building. Have you heard it?

Once a church, this unrivaled structure was not built by a saint—nor was it originally made to memorialize any Christian virtues. It’s construction was ordered by the Tsar, Ivan Grasni, a man history knows as Ivan the Terrible. This building was to commemorate his victories in war.

Ivan the Terrible was an iron-fisted ruler whose brutal legacy has haunted Russian history and politics. Given to paranoia and fits of rage, Ivan conquered nations and killed thousands and even murdered his own son. But just outside the Kremlin walls there was one man whom Ivan feared—a peasant by the name of Basil.

Those who knew Basil considered him a prophet. He saw things which others could not and did things which others would not. In heat of the summer and in the cold winter, Basil would walk the streets with little clothing, giving whatever he had to those in need. In sharp contrast to the murderous, opulent tsar behind the Kremlin wall, Basil lived humbly and nurtured life in others. On numerous occasions, Basil openly rebuked the Tsar, calling him to repentance.

Racked with guilt—Ivan would often send gifts to the prophetic peasant, hoping to appease him. But Basil would simply give the gifts away.

Time passed, and Ivan continued to wage costly wars while Basil gave what little he had to a precious few. Ivan became more hated and infamous, while Basil became more loved and venerated. When Basil died, Ivan was overcome with grief and did something that no one expected. He left the Kremlin walls and carried the peasant’s coffin to the Cathedral where they buried him.

The humble heart of a peasant had melted the heart of a tyrant.  From then on, the building was known as St. Basil’s Cathedral—in honor of the peasant prophet.

This story prompts me to ask: Am I symbolically more like Ivan the Terrible or St. Basil the Blessed? Do I live for myself, as Ivan did? Or do I give of myself, as Basil did? For the way we live our lives has an impact—not only on ourselves, but on those around us, and on the generations that will follow us.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Sacred Writings | A Map for Your Journey

It is my firm belief that we are all pilgrims on the earth—that we are all trying to find our way back to our heavenly home. And I believe that scriptures, great literature, and inspiring words are the maps we are to use on our journey.

For me, reading and writing have been life-changing agents; scriptures and stories are powerful tools to help me move forward. Time and time again, I have learned that, while medicines can heal the body, inspirational words can heal the soul. Inspired words are like guideposts, markers, or constellations that show us the way home.

There is an ancient legend that tells of a people who built their community at the base of a sacred mountain. It was believed that this mountain was the gateway to heaven and, as such, members of the community would carry their dying loved ones up the mountain and remain with them until they passed on. It was their way of giving their loved ones to the gods.

One day, a young man was carrying his elderly father to the top of the mountain. His father was very sick and frail. Yet, as they climbed, the old man would reach out and grab handfuls of branches and leaves from the nearby trees, and drop them on the ground.

About halfway up the mountain, the young man stopped and asked his father why he was dropping branches and leaves on the ground. Tears streamed down the old man’s face as he replied, “Son, when I die, I want you to find your way home.”

I think great stories and literature are like branches on our path. Our wise ancestors (and those who have gone before us) have left these stories for us so that we could find our way home—so that we could move forward.

Friday, December 2, 2016

See Your Life With Two Sets of Eyes

The Journey Home - by Jon McNaughton
It is my firm belief that we are all pilgrims on the earth—that we are all trying to find our way back to our heavenly home.

If we are to progress on our journey, I think we need to approach each new day with "two sets of eyes." With our physical eyes, we need to see our life for what it is—the tangible reality of every day life: the physical, financial, mechanical struggles of every day life.

But I also think we need to see our life with spiritual eyes. That is to say, we need to interpret our physical struggles as spiritual struggles. This idea is one of the main themes of my novel, Rip Van Winkle and the Pumpkin Lantern. Nathaniel, a talking raven, states it rather simply by saying "Everything you see is merely a symbol for things you do not see."

The physical mountain we are climbing could be comparable to our battle with addiction. Every morning is the chance to have a new beginning. Our physical hunger and fatigue should remind us of our need to be fed spiritually.

In the video below, Dieter F. Uchtdorf, a leader in the LDS Church, shares the powerful story of his family's escape from East Germany into West Germany. He then compares this journey (and other "journeys") to our spiritual sojourn on this earth.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Pilgrims on the Earth

I think that for the past ten years I have been an Alaska Pilgrim, a man seeking the Northern Lights o life. Almost thirty-one years ago, I was born in Anchorage, Alaska. My family lived there for another eight years before we moved to the western United States.  I loved growing up in the lower 48, but I have always missed Alaska. I missed looking up at night and seeing the Northern Lights.

In January of 2007, I was feeling lost and I made a brief "pilgrimage" back to Anchorage. I needed to get my bearings. I needed to see the Northern Lights and remember that there truly is light in the darkness.

I saw the Northern Lights.

And since then, I have traveled all over the world seeking the Northern Lights of Life—inspiration sent from Heaven, to guide us back home.

For truly, are we not all pilgrims on the earth? Are we not all trying to find our way home? In the book of Hebrews, Paul referred to the followers of God as "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" who "desire a better country, that is, an heavenly" country. (Hebrews 11:13)

There is a common thread that runs through many popular books and movies. It is this idea that the protagonist, or the main character, is "out-of-place," that he/she isn't liked, isn't normal, doesn't fit in, or feels like something is missing. Bilbo Baggins doesn't fit in with his company of dwarves; Harry Potter is a stranger to the Wizarding World; Lucy and her family were living in the country, away from family, when she entered the wardrobe and discovered Narnia.

Why do you think that is? Why is it that so many of the most popular books and novels rely on this idea, or theme, of being an outcast?

Because that's how we all feel.

Strangely enough, the feeling of being alone, of being an outcast, of feeling out-of-place, is the universal feeling of mankind. Why? I think it's because we are all pilgrims. This isn't our real home—not really. There is a "better country" beyond this, and our life on this world is but a pilgrimage, a journey to that better country.

So keep your spiritual eyes open, Pilgrim. For there are celestial lights all around us, urging us forward—toward that better country.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Gold in the Superstition Mountains

There is a range of mountains in Arizona known as the Superstition Mountains. Long ago, a Dutchman claimed to find a secret cache of gold there, but he died before he could reveal the location of the treasure.

Conversely, the Native Americans have long believed the Superstitions Mountains to be a sacred place. According to legend, the mountains are home to the Thunder God.

Over the past year, I have hiked all over the Superstition Mountains. I haven't found the gold, but I have had a lot of good talks with God. While walking up and down those mountain paths, His voice has whispered to my soul, and it's caused me to make thunderous changes in my life.

And that, to me, is worth more than a fabled treasure.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Legend of the Northern Lights

For the past few months, I've been thinking a lot about the Alaskan salmon run. I know that's a strange thing to admit, but it's true. I was born in Alaska and I always feel the pull to go back. A few years ago, I wrote this short story about salmon and the Northern Lights. I feel like it's time to go home . . .

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Metanoia | A Change of Heart

Walking on a dirt road on Kuala Ranch in Hawaii.
I'm currently working on a novel that has caused me to think a lot about repentance. A little while ago, I was researching repentance and I stumbled upon the word metanoia. The word metanoia means "a transformative change of heart" or a spiritual conversion. The word conversion, itself, means "to turn altogether," or to change direction.

I think, too often, I have confused repentance with a mere change in behaviors. Repentance can certainly include a change in behaviors. But true, deep repentance is much more than that—it is a 180 degree change of heart that fundamentally transforms us. Once transformed, we no longer desire to do certain behaviors.

Throughout my travels, I have frequently taken a path that has led me astray. The realization of my mistake is sometimes embarrassing but always requires a course correction—a turn around.

Metaphorically speaking, we frequently take the wrong paths in life—paths that lead us astray. The full realization of our mistakes is often embarrassing, but the quickest way home is to change accept our mistakes and change our direction—to turn around.

C. S. Lewis put it this way:
“We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake. And I think if you look at the present state of the world it's pretty plain that humanity has been making some big mistake. We're on the wrong road. And if that is so we must go back. Going back is the quickest way on.”

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

A Poem As Lovely As a Tree

Walking through the Inner Basin Trail near Flagstaff, Arizona.
I have a great love for trees—particularly deciduous trees, or trees that shed their leaves during the autumn season. The colors are so vivid and beautiful that I've often wondered if the changing of the leaves is a form of visual poetry, written by the Creator Himself.

Years ago, while walking on a trail that led to the Natural Bridge in Virginia, I read a poem by Joyce Kilmer that I've carried with me ever since. It's a simple poem, but quite lovely.


by Joyce Kilmer

I think that I shall never see 
A poem lovely as a tree. 

A tree whose hungry mouth is prest 
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast; 

A tree that looks at God all day, 
And lifts her leafy arms to pray; 

A tree that may in Summer wear 
A nest of robins in her hair; 

Upon whose bosom snow has lain; 
Who intimately lives with rain. 

Poems are made by fools like me, 
But only God can make a tree.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Don't Row Your Boat, Set Your Sail

Overlooking the Cook Inlet, near Anchorage, Alaska. 
Last week, I listened to a series of talks on willpower. In this series, the speaker suggested that too often, we waste our time and energy by "rowing [our] boats" instead of "setting [our] sails" and using the natural strength of the wind.

In other words, we tend to rely on our own strength instead of asking for help outside of ourselves and drawing upon that strength—like the strength of our friends and family. Or the unseen strength of the wind—like the strength of our Creator.

. . . interesting thought.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Light of the World

For reasons to great to enumerate, I am sensitive to any reference, or synonym, of the word "light." Whenever light is mentioned in the scriptures, in stories, in history, or in real life, my ears perk up and my mind starts searching for a deeper meaning to its reference. Because whenever light is involved, there's always a deeper meaning.

When you stop and think about it, light is truly a marvelous and miraculous thing. Physically speaking, light literally gives life and its presence has the power to transform our perception of reality. Spiritually speaking, light has those same powers—spiritual light revitalizes our lives and transforms our perceptions of reality.

There is a story, perhaps as old as time itself, of a Being who came down from the heavens and gave to mankind the gift of fire—or the gift of light. The Ancient Greeks knew Him as Prometheus, yet I know Him by a different name. This gift of fire enabled mankind to do marvelous things. With fire, we could make tools, cook food, stay warm, and—perhaps most importantly—find our way in the dark. The gift of fire, or the gift of light, changed everything.

As you read stories, or watch movies, consider the role of light and how it changes the mood, the setting, or even a character's understanding. Then consider the role of light in your own life. Do you feel dark inside? Are you wandering in the wilderness? If so, I know there exists a Being who is always willing to bring light to your life.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Thanksgiving for Squanto

Squanto meets the Pilgrims
This Thanksgiving, I want to publicly declare my gratitude for Squanto, an unsung hero in history. Squanto was a Native American, who, through service, saved countless lives—including my own. And perhaps even yours.

We don't know a lot of details about Squanto, but here's what we do know:

Born in 1585, near the place we now know as Plymouth, Massachusetts, Squanto was a member of the Patuxet tribe. In 1605, he and four other Native Americans were captured by the English and taken to England to be slaves. While there, Squanto learned English and tried, numerous times, to return home. In 1619, Squanto joined an exploratory expedition to the New World (led by Captain John Smith) and finally returned to his homeland. Upon his arrival, Squanto learned that a plague (possibly smallpox) had decimated his tribe. After everything that had happened, Squanto had come home to discover that he was, essentially, the last of his people.

It is difficult for me to imagine how Squanto must have felt—to be taken from everything he'd ever known—to be taken from his family—to be brought to a foreign country as a slave. Then, after fourteen years of doing everything he could to return home, he learns that it's all gone—that his family, his friends and all of his people are dead, killed by a European disease.

Squanto left his homeland (which was literally covered with the bones of his people) and joined the Wampanoags, a nearby tribe.

Years later, the Pilgrims, seeking to build a "better country" arrived in the New World and settled on the land that was once Squanto's home (they, themselves, described it as a land littered with bones). The Pilgrims were unprepared for life in the New World and about half of them died during their first winter. For a time, it seemed as though the Pilgrims had no hope.

Then, on March 22, 1621, a miracle happened. The Pilgrims were met by a man named Squanto—a Native American who, miraculously, spoke English. Squanto helped the English recover from the winter, taught them how to plant corn and other crops, and negotiated peace and trading relations with the Wampanoag Confederation. These miraculous acts of service (yes, miraculous) ultimately saved the Pilgrims from certain destruction and led to the formation of the American nation we know today.

Of course, history is always a bit more complicated than that. There were, of course, other factors and considerations involved, and things we just don't know. But it doesn't change the fact that Squanto, a Native American, saved the Pilgrims.

Please stop for a moment and consider the irony: here was a man who, as a direct/indirect result of the English, had lost everything. He had been captured, treated as a slave, and kept from his homeland for fourteen years. Then, after returning home he found that he had lost everything.

And yet, because of Squanto, because of his service to the Pilgrims, a people—and a nation—was saved. We have everything because of a man who lost everything. I, myself, can trace my ancestry back to the Pilgrims at Plymouth. Squanto didn't just save them—he saved me. And perhaps he saved someone in your family line—perhaps he saved you.

So, this Thanksgiving—and every Thanksgiving from now on—I express my gratitude for Squanto, the man who saved a nation by serving a people.

This Thanksgiving, consider your own life and think of those whom you might serve. You never know how your service might impact a person, a people, or a nation, for good.

Squanto - Wikipedia.org
An Article on Huffington Post
Tisquantum - Mayflower.org

Friday, November 18, 2016

If You Are On The Right Path, It Will Always Be Uphill

Last week, I hiked the Grand Canyon—from the start of South Kaibab Trail to the end of Bright Angel Trail. It's a grueling, painful hike and it took me about nine or ten hours to complete. Toward the end, I was hiking in the dark and using my headlamp to find my way.

This was my fourth time hiking the Grand Canyon and it was my second time hiking it alone. My wife said I was crazy for doing it (and she may be right) but I really enjoy solitary hiking and I REALLY enjoy hiking the Grand Canyon.

Every time I hike the Grand Canyon (or any difficult trail) I am reminded of a quote by Henry B. Eyring: "If you are on the right path, it will always be uphill."

There is a part of me that wants to contradict that quote. Indeed, the world often fights against it. Perpetual comfort and security seems to be everyone's chief goal. Of course, there's nothing inherently wrong with that. It is righteous and needful to provide comfort and security to your families and yourself. But the greatest rewards in life are found at the summit of the most difficult and arduous mountains.

Hiking up the steep incline of the Grand Canyon, I took a break and watched the last rays of the setting sun disappear fade from view. Then, I marveled as the super moon rose and illuminated the sheer cliff of the Grand Canyon. A truly marvelous sight that no photograph of mine could ever fully capture.

Reaching the summit of Bright Angel Trail was a reward, in and of itself—a feeling I would have missed if I had favored comfort and stayed home.

I challenge you to get outside of your comfort zones. Explore the world and travel uphill. The best rewards are always at the summit of your personal mountains.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

DIY Mountain Mural

I do a lot of work for ANASAZI Foundation, a Wilderness Therapy program for at-risk youth and I frequently visit their lobby. Now, as much as I love ANASAZI, I hated their lobby—its main wall was particularly offensive to mine eyes. Every time I thought about it, I would get an Edgar-Allan-Poe-esque twitch.

The wall was driving me mad! Mad, I tell you!

Something had to be done. It was either me or the wall and it CERTAINLY wasn't going to be me! I decided to paint a mountain mural over it. And so, eye-a-twitching, I waited until everyone left work—until it was just me and the wall...

Then, I created THE MOUNTAIN MURAL! ~Thunder clap in the background~

Supplies Needed:

  • Black Paint
  • White Paint
  • Sahara Desert Sand Paint (Wal-Mart)
  • Warm Caramel Paint (Wal-Mart)
  • Lots of Painters Tape (for outlining the mountains)
  • A Few Paint Brushes (for painting the outlines of the mountains)
  • Lots of Rollers (for most of the painting)
  • Paint Trays (in which you roll your rollers)
  • Paint Sticks (for mixing the paint in which you will roll your rollers)
  • Plastic Cover (or something to lay down on the floor to protect it from paint and blood splatter)
  • Candy Bars (This mural will test your stamina. You will require candy bars to provide you with vital energy and essential nutrients.)
  • A Good Sense of Balance (Believe it or not, it is hard to paint a Mountain Mural if you're falling down all the time.)
  • Excuses (You will need many excuses in order to rationalize why it is taking you so BLEEPIN' long! It looked so easy on Pinterest!)

  • DIY Mountain Mural

    Behold the hideous wall! Do not be deceived by the candy cane furniture! There is nothing sweet about this lobby. Behind the furniture are ghastly gouges and disgusting dents. This will not stand. "Mr. Gorbachov, PAINT A PRETTY MOUNTAIN MURAL ON THIS WALL!"

    And it came to pass, that I did kick away the chairs so as to tackle the wall in all of its ugliness. Additionally, I put down some tape so as to paint the frame. I used a plain white paint (from Wal-Mart) with a semi-gloss luster.

    Here, I used a pencil and traced out a few layers of mountains. I didn't use anything as a reference, I just sort of eye-balled it. In some cases, I erased some lines and started over, but for the most part, it was pretty easy. If you want a particular mountain range, go ahead and use a picture as a reference, but I think this works just as well.

    I did have people tell me—when I was half-way to nearly-finished—"Oh, you know what would be cooler than what you're doing? If you did it and it looked like a different set of mountains!"

    I wasn't a fan of those comments.

    I put numbered stickies on the wall to help me keep the mountain ranges separate. Because sometimes, I got lost in these mountains. And not in the enchanting, "The mountains are calling and I must go," kind of way. It was more like, "I'm lost, frustrated, and I'll probably have to eat this couch in order to survive," kind of way. 

    And so begins the most rewarding/frustrating part of the DIY Mountain Mural—painting it! I figured it would take me a really, really, really long time to carefully, tediously, paint around each mountain. So, instead of dealing with that, I used blue painters tape (Wal-Mart) to outline each mountain range.

    As it turns out, it takes a really, really, really long time to carefully, tediously outline each mountain range with blue painters tape. (But it looks really good when you pull off the tape!)

    Technically, this is the first mountain range I painted (if you don't count the white paint I put down as the background). The paint I used is called "Sahara Desert Sand" and I got it from Wal-Mart. Perspective-wise, this mountain range will appear to be the second-farthest back. Taping it off was a beast, but it's nothing compared to the other mountain ranges...

    Here's where I started to paint the mountain range that appears closest to the viewer. I taped it off and used black paint (again, from Wal-Mart). Initially, it was just going to be a stand-alone mountain, but then I got frustrated with how long it was taking made a creative decision to connect it to another set of mountains. (See below). 

    Here is a ~cough~ non-staged photograph ~cough~ of me painting the mountain that is the furthest back. I mixed the Sahara Desert Sand with white paint to lighten it up. If I could, I would travel back in time and tell myself to "Quit now, you fool! This project is going to take WAY more time than you think it is!"

    At which point, my past-self would ask me why I traveled back in time to this moment, and not to when I was in high school, so as to save myself from a bunch of stupid mistakes. Present-self will consider this for a moment and then show past-self the Flux Capacitor and explain to him the complications of time travel. He and I will have a few laughs and order a burger. When asked who will pay for said burger, we both become confused. If one of us pays, then don't both of us pay?

    After waiting for all the other mountain ranges to dry, I taped off these two. But they are not two distinct mountain ranges. They are the same! Behold...

    Oh Sweet Moses! Magic is real! Also and/or I used the "Warm Caramel" paint found at—you guessed it—Wal-Mart. But don't be fooled! The paint tastes NOTHING like warm caramel!!! I learned this the hard way.

    C'mon, you know where this is going. Do I really need to explain it to you?

    For this layer, I mixed the "Warm Caramel" paint with some of the black paint. I call it "Tin Man's Blood."

    Here is where I realized that I didn't want to create two additional shades. What's this? The "Lonely Mountain" has long-lost family? Bring them in! 

    And to think: I could wasted my time creating an additional layer of mountain ranges. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to finish this mural so I can make it home in time for dinner!

    And here be the last mountain range. I call it: "The Three Sisters and Their Weird Brother Who Stands off to the Side." I should probably change that to French, it might sound better: "Les Trois Sœurs et le Frère Maladroit."

    There you have it, folks! A DIY Mountain Mural. I hope this little tutorial was helpful (or at least entertaining). I defeated the wall by painting mountains. How hippie is that?

    Wednesday, October 12, 2016

    DIY Pumpkin Patch Wine Glasses

    While visiting friends in Florida, I saw these cute little pumpkin patch wine glasses. Now, I happen to love pumpkins (I recently wrote and published a novel about a pumpkin lantern) so I thought this was too good not to share. Below you will find some pictures. Hopefully, they'll give you some ideas for Halloween and Thanksgiving!

    Thursday, June 9, 2016

    A Job Anybody Could Do (But Nobody Did)

    Even though I'm a writer, I've come to realization that action is FAR more important than words. That is to say, it is better to act then to merely talk of acting. If you think there is a job to be done, then you better roll up your sleeves and get to work because chances are... everyone else will just talk about getting it done.

    Ten years ago, I had a teacher read this little story to our class. It took me a while to find it, but I'm glad I did. I hope it inspires you to work.
    This is a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

    Wednesday, June 8, 2016

    Hope for Resistance?

    Opposition is a curious thing. We frequently lament and complain about the presence of opposition in our lives, yet opposition—or resistance—is the only force by which we can improve our lives.

    While on a drive across the country, I was listening to The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The Boys in the Boat is the remarkable story of the University of Washington’s eight-oar crew and their quest for gold in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. About a third of the way through the book, I heard a profound quote about resistance and how it actually supports us:
    It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them. (George Yeoman Pocock)
    We talk of heroes like Winston Churchill, George Washington, Nelson Mandela—and so many others—and glorify them because of their accomplishments. But their accomplishments were made possible by the resistance they encountered. Who would Winston Churchill be without World War II? Who would George Washington be without the Revolutionary War? Who would Nelson Mandela be without the struggle against Apartheid?

    It should be noted, however, that encountering resistance doesn't automatically make us stronger. It is our determination to struggle against that resistance—to overcome our challenges—that makes us stronger. If we are to overcome our challenges, then we need to develop a certain measure of determination and grit—which, incidentally, is the next book on my list.

    Strangely enough, if we want to move forward in life we should not only expect resistance but hope for it—for resistance is the only thing that can make us stronger.

    Tuesday, June 7, 2016

    With Strong and Active Faith

    Franklin D. Roosevelt
    It's been a long time since I've written (or done) much of anything. I've reached a crossroads in my life—two distinct paths have opened up to me: one appeals to my wandering soul, while the other requires a great deal of persistence and hard work.

    One path would be a comfortable road for me—while the other would be extremely uncomfortable. There are voices (in the world and within myself) that would urge me to take the comfortable road. "Do what makes you happy," the voices would say. "Follow your bliss." As nice as that sounds, I feel compelled to reject those voices. I have sat, quite comfortably, at the crossroads for a long time and I can tell you that comfort isn't happiness. Fulfillment is a product of labor. Joy comes after the exercise faith.

    I recently finished watching the Ken Burns documentary on the Roosevelts. I was struck by how much each of the Roosevelts (Teddy, Eleanor, FDR), successful as they were, struggled with depression and heartache. As each episode detailed their secret struggles, I marveled at how each of them found the strength to persist—to move forward.

    I was particularly inspired by Franklin D. Roosevelt, who, after being crippled by Polio at age 39, was able to tap into an inner faith that led him onward. He became the President of the United States and led the nation through the Great Depression and on to victory against Nazi Germany. Any way you look at it, his story is absolutely remarkable.

    A few days before FDR's death, he worked on a speech—which he never delivered. Those words have become known as Roosevelt's last words—and they're a testament to the kind of life he lived. Here is the final part of that speech:
    Today, as we move against the terrible scourge of war—as we go forward toward the greatest contribution that any generation of human beings can make in this world- the contribution of lasting peace, I ask you to keep up your faith. I measure the sound, solid achievement that can be made at this time by the straight edge of your own confidence and your resolve. And to you, and to all Americans who dedicate themselves with us to the making of an abiding peace, I say: 
    The only limit to our realization of tomorrow will be our doubts of today. Let us move forward with strong and active faith.
    We often refer to Roosevelt's generation of Americans as "the Greatest Generation." I think we do that because of how they moved forward with faith even though everything seemed to suggest that the world was collapsing around them (the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, and World War II).

    I have many reasons to doubt myself and to search for an easier road. But after reading Roosevelt's words, I feel compelled to move forward with strong and active faith.

    Perhaps you, too, are searching the strength to move forward. I urge you to continue onward. The road may be hard, but the reward of faith is great. Hellen Keller put it this way: "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved."

    FDR's last, undelivered speech.

    Wednesday, April 27, 2016

    Have You Ever Wanted A New Beginning?

    I've always been impressed by the symbolism associated with wakefulness—that is to say, the power of being awake.

    Wakefulness is about so much more than just getting up in the morning—it's about rising up, being attentive, alert, and alive. The process of waking up every morning is, in and of itself, a symbol for being born again. To wake up is to have a new beginning.

    In my life, I have been fortunate to associate with the Anasazi Foundation. Anasazi is a pioneer wilderness therapy program that is rooted in Native American traditions. The basic idea behind Anasazi Foundation is to take participants into the Arizona wilderness for 50+ days, give them a space that is free from the distractions and noise of the world—and in so doing, help them find a new beginning.

    The other day, I spoke with Ezekiel Sanchez (also known as Good Buffalo Eagle). Ezekiel is a Native American and a co-Founder of the Anasazi program. He told me that one of the primary messages of Anasazi is to give others a new beginning. His son, Lehi Sanchez, recently published a video of Ezekiel which I think is incredible. I've included it below and I hope that it motivates you to wake up tomorrow and have a new beginning.

    Thursday, April 21, 2016

    Are You Following a Calf-Path of the Mind?

    This thought-provoking poem by Sam Foss is a bit on the long-side, but well worth the read! It tells the story of a calf who made a path that others would follow. The author ends the poem with a profound moral lesson on "calf-paths of the mind."

    by Sam Foss

    One day through the primeval wood
    A calf walked home as good calves should;
    But made a trail all bent askew,
    A crooked trail as all calves do.

    Since then three hundred years have fled,
    And I infer the calf is dead.


    But still he left behind his trail,
    And thereby hangs my moral tale.

    The trail was taken up next day,
    By a lone dog that passed that way;

    And then a wise bell-wether sheep
    Pursued the trail o’er vale and steep,

    And drew the flock behind him, too,
    As good bell-wethers always do.

    And from that day, o’er hill and glade.
    Through those old woods a path was made.
    And many men wound in and out,
    And dodged, and turned, and bent about,

    And uttered words of righteous wrath,
    Because ‘twas such a crooked path;

    But still they followed—do not laugh—
    The first migrations of that calf,

    And through this winding wood-way stalked
    Because he wobbled when he walked.
    This forest path became a lane,
    that bent and turned and turned again;

    This crooked lane became a road,
    Where many a poor horse with his load

    Toiled on beneath the burning sun,
    And traveled some three miles in one.

    And thus a century and a half
    They trod the footsteps of that calf.
    The years passed on in swiftness fleet,
    The road became a village street;

    And this, before men were aware,
    A city’s crowded thoroughfare.

    And soon the central street was this
    Of a renowned metropolis;

    And men two centuries and a half,
    Trod in the footsteps of that calf.
    Each day a hundred thousand rout
    Followed the zigzag calf about

    And o’er his crooked journey went
    The traffic of a continent.

    A Hundred thousand men were led,
    By one calf near three centuries dead.

    They followed still his crooked way,
    And lost one hundred years a day;

    For thus such reverence is lent,
    To well established precedent.


    A moral lesson this might teach
    Were I ordained and called to preach;

    For men are prone to go it blind
    Along the calf-paths of the mind,

    And work away from sun to sun,
    To do what other men have done.

    They follow in the beaten track,
    And out and in, and forth and back,

    And still their devious course pursue,
    To keep the path that others do.

    They keep the path a sacred groove,
    Along which all their lives they move.

    But how the wise old wood gods laugh,
    Who saw the first primeval calf.

    Ah, many things this tale might teach—
    But I am not ordained to preach.

    Saturday, April 16, 2016

    BE STRONG! | Poetry to Give You Strength

    Here is a marvelous little poem that will inspire you to press on! The struggle you are fighting today is God's gift to you. It's like the legend of the man, cursed by the gods to push a large boulder over a mountain. Going uphill was arduous, painful work, but as soon as the man reached the summit, he realized that the task given to him by the gods had actually blessed him with strength.

    So press on and be strong!

    by Maltbie D. Babcock

    Be strong!
    We are not here to play, to dream, to drift,
    We have hard work to do, and loads to lift.
    Shun not the struggle, face it, 'tis God's gift.

    Be strong!
    Say not the days are evil—who's to blame!
    And fold the hands and acquiesce—O shame!
    Stand up, speak out, and bravely, in God's name.

    Be strong!
    It matters not how deep entrenched the wrong,
    How hard the battle goes, the day, how long;
    Faint not, fight on! To-morrow comes the song!

    Thursday, April 7, 2016

    Can One Person Make a Difference?

    Can One Person Make a Difference?

    I love these lyrics from the musical Dear World. I'm about to launch several new projects and I've been looking for some encouragement. I'm particularly inspired by the line "one person can hold a touch and light up the sky again."

    "One Person" 
    From the musical Dear World

    One person can beat a drum
    And make enough noise for ten;
    One person can blow a horn
    And that little boom
    And that little blare
    Can make a hundreds others care.
    And one person can hold a torch
    And light up the sky again.
    And one little voice that's squeaking a song,
    Can make a million voices strong.
    If one person can beat a drum,
    And one person can blow a horn,
    If one person can hold a torch,
    Then one person can change the world!
    There may be an army of them
    And only a handful of us,
    And how can a poor little band fight a mighty regime.
    There may be a legion of them,
    And only a parcel of us,
    But it isn't the size of the first,
    It's the size of a dream!

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016

    Christ-Centered Healing From Mental and Emotional Challenges

    Carrie Wrigley, LCSW, a licensed therapist, shares practical insight as to how individuals can heal from mental and emotional challenges through faith and God.

    A sculpture of Jesus Christ by Angela Johnson

    Thursday, March 17, 2016

    What Causes Depression?

    Carrie Wrigley, LCSW, a licensed therapist, shares profound insight on the root causes of depression.

    Alternatively, I was intrigued by M. Scott Peck's definition of depression in The Road Less Traveled. According to him, depression is sometimes what we experience as we are giving up our "old self."
    “Since mentally healthy human beings must grow, and since giving up or loss of the old self is an integral part of the process of mental and spiritual growth, depression is a normal and basically healthy phenomenon. It becomes abnormal or unhealthy only when something interferes with the giving-up process, with the result that the depression is prolonged and cannot be resolved by completion of the process.”
    I just read that today, but I can see where it makes sense. Part of growing up means letting go of the old and accepting the new. The times when I have been the most depressed have been the times when I have tried to hold on to the past—but the past cannot be held. As a result of my inability to recapture what is lost, I become depressed.

    Fascinating, fascinating thought.

    Woman with an issue of blood, sculpture by Angela Johnson