Sunday, April 30, 2006

Prayer (an afterward, answering a question)

"But it is easy for that prayer to be a surrender to lowered expectations rather than a beginning."

Stephen,could you expand on this part a little more for me? Is it because that such surrender occurs because one don't pray to God to intercede beyond asking for the Spirit? Is it a surrender because we surrender the opportunity to draw closer to God, or to know His will?

Does silence in the second kind of prayer mean that we are out of tune, perhaps, or is it like the silence of 'you're on the right path' 'either is fine'?

There are many areas in life where prayer and heartbreak go hand-in-hand. Most of them are singular events, and people find prayer restores them. For example, in grief, it is well researched and well documented that those who prayer sincerely, regardless of their faith, recover better and receive peace.

People begin to have problems when they have repeating tragedies, either from their own blindness or from external events, that they are not rescued from. For example, Geoff finds comfort in the intercessory prayers that saved his son. Even if his son had died, he would have had comfort in the restoration of hope and faith the Spirit can bring. But consider what would happen if his son had died, then another son had died and then another. At some point, like the alcoholic who prays for God to save him from the bottle, he would start to associate prayer with a failure of intercession and might see God as being aware that sparrows fall, but not doing anything about it. People in that situation often pray for God's intercession only in the presence of the Spirit (one don't pray to God to intercede beyond asking for the Spirit), they've given up on seeking more from God. They've surrendered to a loss of hope in some ways.

I have to admit I've found twelve-step programs fascinating because almost everyone in them has experienced continuous failure of intercessory prayer to help them with the core of whatever their program is about. What are the second and third steps? They the time when the program tells them that God will intercede, and are a point of great difficulty for many religious people who have a solid, experience based, knowledge that God won't, because it appears that he hasn't. Then, God does. Twelve step programs are, at their hearts, spiritual programs that seek intercessory prayer on the level of "O God, Aaron hath told me that there is a God; and if there is a God, and if thou art God ..." (Alma 22:18).

The next step, in prayer, beyond finding the comfort of the Spirit (and that is by no means a small thing or something to be disregarded) is to seek to know God's will and to have the courage, faith and strength to fulfill it as it applies to us. I've written before about my wife and graduate school and how I admire her (it was hard on all of us, especially with a new baby, but by far hardest on her, by far, and I admire her courage).

If we stop at the presence of the Spirit, we have given up on drawing closer to God (often from fear of being hurt again) and knowing his will. Though when we seek that, sometimes we have silence. Sometimes silence means we are on track and we just need to be patient. At mile ten in a marathon, there isn't much to do except keep running (and yes, I know I've simplified my example). Sometimes silence means we need to draw closer to God and that we need to work on that -- that is, the right path for us is to keep seeking and getting closer.

Which brings me full circle on the question asked: what is a major step in prayer, being able to seek and find the comfort and presence of the Spirit, can be a surrender if we stop there and let experience dissuade us from seeking more. When we seek more, it is important to realize that silence (on which I have blogged about here) means very little besides silence and that we should continue seeking.

God bless and answer your prayers.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Paradox (part four on prayer)

Most things that look like a paradox are either incomplete, a choice of the wrong logic for the question or the result of bad definitions. But paradox and quasi-paradox creates barriers to understanding and faith. For example, God is, as far as we are concerned, all powerful. God is also all knowing. Given those two facts, why should our prayers make any difference? Where do finite mortals have any place in the interplay of infinities and what is our role, other than suffering? For we do suffer, are afraid, and hurt.

We fit. We belong. When David asks "what is man, that thou art mindful of him?" in Psalms, he comes full circle to an answer. The same is true of Moses in his apocalypse when he begins by stating that he had never supposed that man was nothing, lost in a sea of infinity, and never guessed that man and women were everything, each a child of God.

But in prayer we fit because the interaction of prayer changes us. Yes, there are times when the intercession we seek would have occurred anyway, when we pray for what would be God's intervention regardless of what we sought. But, by changing ourselves through prayer, we change the shape of everything we interact with and where we fit in that interaction. We do not so much change God, as change ourselves, and thus our relation and thus what will become.

That is how we fit in an infinite world as finite mortals.

I've written on suffering and pain, which is related to this thread, but a far different topic.

You can read about that at Healing the Spirit.

There are some questions that have been asked as well.

I'll address those that I've left hanging in an afterword, but I appreciate everyone's comments and thoughts.

50 pounds lost so far

As of this morning I was down about fifty pounds, still down forty-nine after breakfast. I'm probably using less willpower and taking less effort than any "diet" on this method. [editorial note, each week I lose about a pound, so May 13, I'm down 54 pounds].

Seth's book at explains it, but unlike most diets, all it took was five dollars of extra-light olive oil from Costco. No expensive food plans, no hard to find items, no real disruption of my routine. His on-line forums are at He also has a blog at

What I find very interesting about the diet (or method as some people refer to it) is that my metabolism never shuts down, I'm not fighting with myself, and it is easy, rather than hard. Where I used to eat some donuts, be full and look around for more, now I look at the donuts and just don't feel like eating them. Instead of eating a slice of pizza and waiting until everyone leaves so I can finish the rest of the box, I lose interest in eating more.

I do have to deal with all the emotion I had submerged under the food. I've had to pay attention, because things catch me unaware, especially grief and anger related issues (though my secretary hasn't noticed), and in my case I'm lucky in that most of the hidden emotions were happy ones that had snuck up on me unawares.

This is probably my last straight out diet or weight loss related post. Bottom line, I don't believe in diets, I think most of them are fraudulent and the authors know or should know what they are doing. This is different.

This approach worked -- differently from anything else I every tried -- and I think that it would work for others, especially when paired with the right kind of support and realization. But none of it was me, none of it was willpower or virtue, none of it is something I can take credit for, the only thing I can do is say thanks.

If you want just the food plan version (where you eat only food you prepare yourself, every meal different), a way to do that is: Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats--A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners (A 30-Minute Meal Cookbook). I would not take that approach until I was well into the diet, but that sort of cook-book makes a great follow-up. Get Seth's book first and follow it diligently for a couple of months, then explore and experiment.

More misc. links:

Monday, April 24, 2006

Intercession (part three)

When we pray for something and God responds, I refer to that as an intercession or as intercessional prayer.

Some intercessions are obvious. the classic prayer for the presence of the Spirit, seeking nothing more, and obtaining the sweet calmness and light of the Spirit, is a prayer seeking intercession and obtaining it. But it is easy for that prayer to be a surrender to lowered expectations rather than a beginning.

The next type of intercessory prayer is for knowledge of God's will and the strength and courage to embrace and carry it out. For my wife, that meant going to graduate school. The CRNA graduate program was mind numbingly difficult and a miracle, given our circumstances. (Yes, I admire and respect my wife). But it was also made possible by the intercession of God's answering her prayer and giving her knowledge, strength and courage.

But, the intercession most of us want is for God to intervene and change things -- changing our lives or the lives of others. Job seeking, blessings seeking healing, changes of heart for ourselves or others, deliverance from peril, those are the sorts of intercession we seek. It is not so much that there are no atheists in fox holes as there are few who feel like a foxhole is the place to surrender to destiny.

God responds in all of these requests for intercession. While sometimes we may "Thank God for Unanswered Prayers" (to quote a song about the blessing of God saying no when getting what we wanted would have been a disaster), some times God says "yes." I've had both happen -- God say no, and God say yes, both when I expected the other answer.

I write about seeking to have God say yes next, which reprises back to the courage to embrace God's will as well as the faith and strength to seek to affect it, which touches upon one of the mysteries -- why is life painful (among other mysteries).

Sunday, April 23, 2006

The wheel chair

When my daughter was younger, there was a pretty young girl in a wheel chair at her school. Every day her father would come to the school and feed her with a spoon. He had been someone of importance in China, here he was a father whose daughter was crippled.

Because some of the students were a little insensitive about current events, my daughter's teacher had him talk to the class about an eight month period in his life. He spent that time in a three foot cube, except for the times they pulled him out to feed him and torture him. Every day, for eight months. Before that, they had tried some things to break his will, such as drugs, toxic in heavy doses, slipped into things, such as cough syrup. Such as the cough syrup he gave his daughter instead of using himself, because her health was more important to him than his own. Whose body mass and health was not strong enough. Who now sits in a wheel chair, making mental progress, but physically unable to feed herself.

Did they think they had good reason to torture him? Was it important? Could it have been justified to cripple his daughter and send him through eight months of electroshock and worse?

Do we have the right to do the same to others, with the same basis that we have good reasons, it is important, and the collateral damage is what it is?

I was just thinking about those things as my daughter asked me about rendition and other topics and the effects of "intimidation" vs. "torture" since the gentle man who spoke to them was clear that the government only wanted information, only wanted to intimidate him, not merely punish or cause him severe pain.

When you think of prayer, pray for our country, where we let such things happen under our aegis. Pray for us, and for those we wrong.

Interlude: When we don't need God (or think we don't)

Self-sufficiency -- when we don't feel a need for anything besides ourselves -- is as dangerous as pride: in many ways it is the same, only mild instead of brash. It is, in my opinion, the core of the post-Christian world in Europe. People have enough and do not feel need, their weaknesses do not trouble them or cause them to fear for their safety or that they or their children will starve.

Ether 12:27 "I give unto men weaknesses that they might be humble ... "

Alma 32:14 "do ye not suppose that they are more blessed who truly humble themselves because of the word?"

Ether 12:27 "if men come unto me I will show unto them their weaknesses." "if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong."

Alma 32:15 "he that truly humbleth himself, and repenteth of his sins, and endureth to the end, the same shall be blessed."

In our age it is easy to live our lives in contentment, finding things sufficient, without needing to humble ourselves. I look at my own life. Even in the midst of the worst of tragedies I experienced, my family always had food, a house, schools, neighbors and physical safety. Now, I'm making trade-offs where I take time over money (I could probably double my income, if I were willing to work more and see my family less). I have more than enough. That is one thing that struck me about Paris: many of the people there were content with a great deal less than we feel we need, they had found contentment, they were self-sufficient.

I may have more than enough, but that gives me a renewed force in my life, a concern that if I am not careful I will drift away. As a result, I find myself earnestly seeking to turn again to God. I need God, not for some thing, not for some help, not for some intercession, but I need God to be my God. I need God for God and as God -- but so do we all. So do we all.

With this aside, I'll be back to my series on prayer in the next post.

Intervention v. Intercession, passive or tangible?

God's intervention in the world happens spontaneously or sua sponte all the time (sua sponte means on God's own initiative and is a slightly better word than spontaneously which makes it seem like God just chaotically intervenes). I remember a training accident or two, where I was protected from harm and a seventy foot drop down a mountainside. Physical, tangible acts of God, (much like a friend of my father's who was blessed and had all of his tattoos disappear) except they happen without our asking.

Less tangible, but just as real, is inspiration. Most missionaries have encountered it. I've been on my way to an appointment and had a flash of light and clear directions. The appointment fell through and we slogged back through the snow, up the stairs and past the corner to the door, where a complete stranger was still hoping and hungering for us to come. Most can tell you of many such experiences.

I've had direct direction to speak to people or to help them when they had not thought to pray for help. It is easy to start to believe that inspiration and comfort are all that God does. I have friends who believe in what I call the "non contact" God -- a God who whispers into the world and who cares, but who lets every sparrow fall. It is easy to believe in a non-tangible God, but that vision would not be true. While comfort and guidance are important, God is more than just a comfort and a guide (or, as a friend said, happiness may be a compass and a warm blanket, but God is more).

Beyond intervention by God, sua sponte (there is that word again), there is also intercession (where God responds to prayer). Intervention is usually a delightful surprise, intercession is what we often plead for. We hunger for a God of miracles who can be interceded with.

I'll write on that next.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

On Prayer (part one of four or more parts)

Geoff J wrote on why prayer works and as the comments progressed I had some thoughts. I started writing on them during a class and now I've got a four part (at present, I may rewrite it) discussion about prayer.

Most prayers I hear appear to be said out of habit or need. Prayers said from habit are like shaking hands or brushing your teeth: part of a routine that has a positive place, but is engaged in because it is engaged in. In times of need, or in times when people think they have a need, they also pray. Everyone has heard the old joke "God, I've never prayed before and if you help me now I'll never bother you again ..."

I've been reflecting on this a good deal recently, because I've slipped into praying just to feel the Spirit and so my children will pray with me and feel the Spirit (too many habitual prayers are empty -- the loss of school prayer is a positive thing in that regard -- one less empty prayer). I haven't had things to talk with God about that I could express, my needs are more than met in my limited understanding of what my needs are, and having the Spirit present has felt like more than enough reason to pray when praying by myself or with my family.

But what about what people think of when they think of prayer? What about praying to God to intercede in the world? What about prayinf for others or for needs? I will write on that next, because we are told that prayer is more than ritual and more than an excuse to find a sense of presence, calm and peace. Not only are we told that it is more, we need for it to be more for us to be fully engaged in living rather than merely existing.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Talking blogs with a reporter

I was talking with a reporter, the interview went over an hour, so we ranged a bit off-topic for about five-ten minutes at the end, when he asked me about LDS blogs.

I think Feminist Mormon Housewives made him wonder if the links were LDS blogs or not, or just what that meant. I have non-blog links (see my side bar), and they touch on my primary concerns, but I've got a lot of reciprocal links too. But yes, religion is a part of my life and my journey out of grief.

Though I'm aware of just how tenuous the connection to religion can be, and still work miracles in people's lives. That is why I've found the pragmatic God of AA to be so interesting. He is so similar, in many ways, to the God in the Book of Mormon as experienced by people who had little theological experience or background.

Anyway, there is a bloggernacle.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

A Song for My Father (by a friend, for his father)

Horace Silver is one of America's greatest jazz musicians / composers. One of his most memorable compositions is called "Song for My Father." Even if you are not a jazz fan, you've probably heard part of that song, because Steely Dan used its "signature" motif in their tune "Ricky Don't Lose That Number," and used it in the same way that the Horace Silver Quintet had. There's a vocal version of it, but I believe Silver's original was an instrumental.

This is a song for my father.

He was born in 1924. Thus, he was a child during the Depression. Times were bad for his parents then, as they were for most Americans. He sometimes would tell of how his own father, desperate for income, tried to start a mail-order business to sell pills that, when added chickens' drinking water, would supposedly cause hens to lay more eggs. As I recall, he said a package of pills cost a quarter. That was a lot of money during the Depression: it would buy a breakfast of two fried eggs, French fries, two slices of toast with jam, coffee, and apple pie.

His father had been a self-educated civil engineer. He'd spent many years in South America, building railroad bridges and laying out rail lines, until the Depression brought all capital projects to a halt. Hence the egg-pill scheme....which itself ended up laying an egg.

Dad's father had served in WWI, in the Army. But dad's grandfather had been a career officer in the Marine Corps. He'd served in the Spanish-American War, and retired as a full colonel.

Once upon a time, long ago, my family had some social standing. Its history goes back over 700 years. One ancestor became a lawyer--a canon lawyer, which is to say, he was a man of the cloth who specialized in Church Law. When Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church, that ancestor helped paper over the seizure of all the monasteries' property in the name of the king. There were some others, uncles, I suppose, who became lawyers, and one was even a small-time judge. But in terms of the direct line, I am the first lawyer in my family in nearly 500 my father's disgust.

At one point, an ancestor was a prominent banker in London. But he was addicted to gambling. To try to recoup his losses, he tried the typical loser's gambit of doubling up. When that failed, he attempted to cover his losses by embezzling from his bank. He was eventually caught, of course--but only after he'd stolen the modern equivalent of tens of millions of dollars. He was tried (I have a copy of the trial transcript), convicted, and hanged.

My dad's first ancestor to come to America did so as the result of another gamble that failed, when he--possessor of a knighthood--backed King Charles I against Cromwell in the English Civil War. But he'd not stayed on to the bitter end. As a refugee, he came to Virginia in 1643, bringing with him sufficient funds to become a plantation-owner. And yes, he had slaves.

His descendants, plantation owners all, routinely served as Justices of the Peace--which, in colonial Virginia, as in common-law England, was a big deal--and as members of the House of Burgesses. They were counted as being among what were known as the "First Families of Virginia."

My father's great-grandfather was a doctor, a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's medical school. But he too placed a losing bet, on the War of Northern Aggression. As was the custom back then, professional men automatically got to have high commissions as officers. This one was a colonel. When the Federals captured Vicksburg, he was taken prisoner. He spent the next few years treating patients in a prisoner-of-war camp as a guest of the Union.

After that, the family fell on hard times. As was common for Southerners during and after the Damned Yankee (the "damned" is redundant, of course) "Reconstruction," they were poor. Hence my father's grandfather's choice of a career in the armed forces--which was quite common for poor young Southern men (and some who were rich, such as George Patton) until well after WWII. He was able to get a college education only courtesy of Uncle Sam, via Annapolis.

The Depression completed the work that the Civil War had begun. Ever after, Dad was quite frugal. The only cars he'd buy were Fords or Chevrolets--preferably a "demonstrator model" sold far below list price. And he never took any chances, at all, on investments, forever fearing to lose what he already had.

Like his father, grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather before him, he served in a war--in his case, WWII, in the Pacific, as a Marine. He was in the Battle of Okinawa, the bloodiest of all in that "theater" (and perhaps anywhere).

He was always willing to tell stories about being in the Marines. In fact, for him, those times were the high point of his life. He was in perfect physical condition back then, fighting a noble war, and the camaraderie among the leathernecks was astounding.

But I could never get him to talk about combat. The only times he'd open up, about the things hidden deep within him, were when Mom was out-of-town--because, after I reached legal age, I'd buy a couple six-packs of beer, and proceed to get my dad drunk. That would loosen his tongue...but never, ever about combat--with two exceptions.

Once, he mentioned the shock of seeing a fellow Marine whose intestines were spilling out all over the place after he'd been struck by shrapnel. Another time, he mentioned riding in the front seat of a jeep, to the right, after the Battle of Okinawa was supposedly over. Another man was also in front, between my father and the driver. A die-hard sniper put a bullet right between the man's eyes, killing him instantly. Other than that, he would never talk about anything other than his good times during the war. It was only when I recently saw The Thin Red Line, which is perhaps the only realistic war movie ever made, that I understood my father's reticence.

He did tell me that, when the news broke that the first atomic bomb had been dropped on Japan, he and all his fellow Marines burst into tears. They knew the war would end without an invasion of the home islands of Japan--an invasion in which my father's unit was scheduled to be in one of the front ranks that would assault Japan's shores south of Tokyo. After the horrific casualties of Okinawa, they all knew that the Japanese would fight to the death in their homeland even more than they had elsewhere, and that perhaps nearly all of the Marines in the first waves would die.

Several decades later, when I was a student in Japan, I visited Tokyo's Yasukuni Shrine to Japan's dead from "The Pacific War" (as they call it), and toured the adjacent Museum of the Pacific War. (Yet another flag-waving propaganda film about Pearl Harbor has just been released. I do wish Americans would face the truth about the background to the Pacific War and Pearl Harbor, instead of using it as an occasion for jingoistic Japan-bashing. But then again, I do wish the North would face the truth about the background to the Civil War.)

Japan's war museum has on display a two-seater Zero fighter-bomber. It would be hard to describe the feelings I had as I stood at the foot of that aircraft, which is suspended from the ceiling at a downward angle. While there, I met some Japanese veterans of WWII. I could not help but wonder if one of them had been among those on Okinawa who had been trying to kill the man who became my father, or had been among those whom he had been trying to kill. (I did not ask where they had served, of course.)

It always amuses me to hear fellow Americans talk about how "we" have never lost a war and suffered an Occupation such as Japan's after WWII. I quickly remind them that the South not only lost a war (and 365,000 men), it suffered an Occupation that lasted 12 years--longer than that of Japan after WWII.

It was strange to meet those Japanese veterans. At times I felt I had a lot in common with them. Both Imperial Japan and the Confederate States of America started a war that was almost impossible to win--although they came much closer than history acknowledges. Thank God, they lost. But the pain of the loss is still there, lingering through the generations. I can fully understand how Japan's Imperial Family and the country's ultra-nationalists still refuse to accept responsibility for Japan's wartime atrocities, because, in much the same way, far too many (white) Southerners still refuse to come to terms with the tragedy of the South's past and its legacy of "Jim Crow" laws, segregation, and--even now--racism.

Historically, engineering has been a profession of the lower-middle class, something like school teaching or the ministry. That is why my father's dad had become an engineer. That is why my own dad followed in his footsteps. The family was poor. Only the GI Bill enabled my father to take a degree.

Engineering is perhaps the only profession where, as a general rule, either you are good at it, or you are out. The successful practice of law, in contrast, is notorious for its ability to be based on bullshit. Hence my father's antipathy for my choice of a career. Even medicine has far more room for error. (Incompetent doctors' mistakes are often literally buried--though, thanks only to lawyers and courts, doctors are now sometimes held accountable.)

Dad was a good engineer. He was also an old-fashioned do-it-yourself home repairs guy, of the type that is almost extinct now. If it involved electrical or mechanical devices, or plumbing, he could fix it. But engineers are notoriously poor at playing office politics. It was only with the rise of William Hewlett and David Packard that engineers began to rise to the top of corporations--and, of course, Hewlett and Packard were entrepreneurs, so they started at the top.

Most of the time, engineers were overworked and underpaid, while the bullshit-management types, like typical politicians, took the credit (and the pay raises) for their successes. So it was with my father. The last year before he retired, he made less than half of what a 24-year-old top graduate of a top law school can expect to make today. He was well aware of this, but not at all bitter about it. Instead, he referred to himself as a "burro," and watched in amazement as the corporate racehorses garnered stunning salaries and stock options.

Dad took pride in his work, but was willing to let the management-types take the credit and the money. He did not want to play corporate games. He just wanted to be good at his job. And he was. He had no dreams of getting rich or famous, let alone of restoring the family to prominence.

I was born late in the marriage--an "accident," when it was thought my mother was too old to conceive again. Perhaps for that reason, I was also born a cripple. (For that reason, I was the first male in a direct line going back more than 225 years who did not serve in the armed forces at all, and thus not in combat.)

When I was a young child, my father would spend long hours slowly, patiently, stretching my legs, bending them, trying to get them to work right. It was all in vain, as were multiple surgeries. Sometimes, while working on me, he would remind me of how he used to change my diaper. When I was older, he would again remind me of the diaper-changing, always adding "And you're still always making messes that others have to clean up!" (As an attorney, I would of course shoot back: "That's what lawyers are for!") In my teen years, we had some very bitter rows, and were never again close. My becoming an attorney just made it worse.

But although he never realized it, my dad taught me something by the force of his example: do your job right. Don't just do enough to get by; do it well. Other people are depending on the quality of your work. And even though they might be far enough removed from you in the scheme of things, such that they could not suspect that it was your laziness or incompetence that ultimately led to the screw-up, the fact will remain that it was your laziness or incompetence that ultimately led to the screw-up. It isn't just a matter of avoiding guilt. It's a matter of taking pride in your work, but without being vain about it, of a job well-done, even when no one knows...or, perhaps, cares.

You see, he was very old-fashioned that way. Although he (unlike I) never preached morality, morality ran through everything he did--perhaps unbeknownst even to him.

On May 14, Dad had a medical checkup. The doctor immediately put him in the hospital. I flew to the city where he was hospitalized, and spent time with him. On May 22, his kidneys shut down. Then began what I knew to be a death watch over him, 12 hours a day, my mother and I alternating shifts.

He'd been in much pain from some other medical problems, and the doctor put him on morphine. He would occasionally have a lucid interval, though. (By the way, "lucid interval" is a legal term. It will come up in your wills course, or--if you don't take wills--perhaps in the wills portion of your bar exam.) During those intervals, he would usually ask me to lift up each of his legs in turn, and to bend them, because he could not move them at all. He had also lost control over his elimination function. The hospital had him in an adult diaper. It was I who sometimes changed that diaper while my father endured in embarrassed silence--if, that is, he was conscious.

When his kidneys stopped producing urine altogether, the doctor said the end was near. Dad had one more lucid moment. It lasted only about five minutes. He was unable to speak. He wanted desperately to talk to me, but all he could do was make sounds, not words. He had a look in his eyes that I cannot describe, other than to say that it was the same look my 97-year-old grandmother occasionally got in her eyes in the weeks before her own death, last year. I hope I never see that look again. And I hope I never need to look at anyone that way.

When I was sure Dad could understand what I was saying, I leaned over and kissed him on the forehead. I told him of what a good father he was--even though, I added, at times, he had truly been a pain in the neck. I told him that, even though he was not happy that I had become a lawyer, that I had tried to be a good lawyer, just as he had been a good engineer. I told him how proud I was of him because he had always been such a good husband, a good father, a good man ... and a good role model for me.

Shortly after that, he slipped into unconsciousness again. He never came back. At approximately 7 p.m. on Thursday, May 24, he began gasping for air, like a fish out of water. Within a few seconds, he was gone. After a few minutes, I kissed him again, for the last time, and said goodbye. Whereas he had been running a slight fever before, his scalp had already cooled below normal body temperature. Soon a nurse's aide came in and wound tape around his head, so--as rigor mortis set in--his jaw would not be agape. As his skin color turned ashen, my mother and I left.

So why am I telling you all of this? Obviously, in part, it is because I am trying to deal with a pain that runs very, very deep.

My father was old, 76. I knew his time was coming. As is so common among former Marines, he'd allowed himself to fall apart. He drank too much too often, smoked, never exercised, and got overweight. (I, unfortunately, have followed those examples too--without even being a former Marine.) As a result, he had developed heart trouble and become diabetic. Every Christmas that he lived was the best gift of all.

A few months ago, my fellow author, had recommended a book to me about WWII, A War to Be Won. I'd quickly bought it and sent it to my father. He and I both knew what I did not have to say: that it was unlikely he would be around to receive it as a Christmas present this year. He had been living on borrowed time for a long time, and his credit line abruptly ran out. I do not know if he finished reading that book before he died. But I do know that at one point he thanked me very, very much for it, and asked me to convey his gratitude to my friend for recommending it.

Father's Day is around the corner. Many of you are young enough that you can expect your father to be around for many years yet. But you never know. I do not know what your relationship is with your own father. But if there are antagonisms between you, I urge you to find a way to set your ego aside and to try to make peace, even if your father will not set his ego aside ...

This does not mean you should give in--I would hardly urge you to do what I myself was never willing to do. But often there is far more common ground between disputants than at first appears to be the case. That is the wisdom of Atticus Finch, in which I, unfortunately, do not share. What I am saying is this: instead of the perfunctory "I love you, Dad" phone call, or the Hallmark Father's Day card, please try to let your father know that you are aware of how much he (presumably!) has done for you, and how much your own good qualities (assuming you have some) are due to his influence.

I was lucky. I was able to tell my father some of the things I needed for him to hear from me, for the first time, before he died. All those years, I had been gambling without even knowing it. And I won--though too little, too late. I hope you do not repeat my foolish pride. (I suspect my father had made the same mistake with his own father. Near the end, he was delirious. He called out for his wife / my mother. But he also called out for his own father...who had died in 1962. I think there were some things he wanted to tell him. Well, I hope that's what he's doing right now, and that they're having a long, long talk.)

For those of you who are fathers, or expect to be fathers, I hope you will realize that there are some things in life that are so important that you will see there should be a limit to the sacrifices you make--even in the name of your family. Getting good grades in law school is important. Becoming successful as a lawyer is important. Those things will benefit your family as well as yourself. But if you are too caught up in the rat race, you turn into...a rat. I don't care how many brilliant contracts you write, how many brilliant court victories you win. Long after all that's gone and forgotten, your children will still be around (I hope).

I know that, as my father lay dying, he was aware that he was dying. I suspect that, in his lucid moments, he was able to give some thought to his life, to what he'd done with it. I am quite sure he was satisfied with his work as an engineer. But I hope that what he saw, and was most satisfied with, is that he had been a good husband, a good father, a good man. Maybe I am hopelessly idealistic, but somehow I think that that's far more important than the usual things men live for, even though he died in obscurity and will soon be forgotten by all except those who loved him so much.

Sitting there those nights, watching my father slowly die, I had a lot of time to think about my own life, and what I want it to count for.

In the great chain of being that stretches back those 700-plus years, I am now first-in-line for the next sweep of the Grim Reaper's scythe. However long, life is short. And as some wag once said, "The thought of one's impending death has a wonderful way of concentrating the mind," or something like that.)

My father's ashes now fill a little container that looks like the sort of small gift box that would hold, say, a pocket watch. Not much to show, is it? With luck, I shall have the secret satisfaction of knowing that my life really did count for something.

And now, I shall light up a cigar and crack open a fifth of my favorite Scotch (which was also my father's favorite). If you wish, think of it as having a solo "Irish wake," even though there's not a drop of Irish blood in me. Or think of it as another manifestation of an old Southern custom (even though I am nowhere near the South)--for as the saying goes: "When the going gets tough, the tough get...drunk."
On this Memorial Day, here's to you, Padre. Semper Fi, my fallen warrior.

From a friend, a memorial.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Lies in our lives

There are inherent lies, conscious lies, compromise lies and intentional lies.

  • The first category of lies are those inherent in many life decisions. The most neutral example must be the inherent lies a slave holder tells himself.
  • Conscious lies are those we are aware of, but made in passing, though we did not start out intending a lie. White lies, promises made to children or spouses without intent, excuses made for not turning in homework on time and more.
  • Compromise lies are similar to inherent lies, they are those which are parts of the compromises we make in the way we live (e.g. lying to yourself about how much you drink or how much you eat, transferring your emotions to not admit the truth about what in our lives makes us angry, lies about our motivations).
  • Intentional lies are those lies we mean to tell (such as those actively or passively told in negotiation or by a swindler).

Those are the interrelated ways in which we lie to ourselves.

A powerful post on some of that in action is at feh-muh-nist

As for Calvanism, which often causes people to lie (all wealth is a sign of God's grace and inherent virtue is a common neo-calvinist belief), here is a post on health as the new Calvanism (among other things).

Or some doctors who told some very interesting (and related) lies to themselves.

I was thinking more about co-dependent behavior, subsumed hypocracy and the lies people believe (such as negotiators who lie best when they believe what they are saying), but those examples brush against the edges of the concept and illustrate parts of it well.

Friday, April 14, 2006

My family is my life, once again.

My daughters are always pleased when someone says they look like their mother or when someone says they will grow up to be like her.

When my oldest was asked to write a profile of herself, she finished on this note:
Her most influential person in her life is her mother. She says that her Mom is everything she wants to be: tall, strong, beautiful, smart, and kind.
When her mom read that, it made her cry.

Then our six year old asked her "Mommy, when I grow up, will I look like you?" When she was told "Yes" she jumped up and down for joy and told her mom that "that makes me so happy!"

It makes me so pleased that both my daughters love their mother so that above all they want to be like her. I see my daughters and I feel like the father in Mulan, who is just so very pleased with his daughter. They and my wife are my life and why I live. I'm back to where I started before everything fell apart, where the thing I want most, and love most, is my family.

I don't know if I'm undone or reborn to my true self again.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Things are not always what you expect.

It is not what you expect, to get in touch with your feelings. Severe grief explodes emotions out of control, but out of touch as well. So many other things can also submerge your feelings: food, spots, work and the grind of day to day. But they come back.

To get in touch with your feelings again can be a shock. you will find:
  • Feelings are stronger and more intense than you remember [and you have to learn to deal with emotions all over again as if you were a child]
  • The feelings you have are not the ones you expect [nor will they be the same emotions day after day]
  • Feelings are not facts [feeling worthless does not mean you are worthless; anger does not mean the other person has done wrong]
  • Feelings can be nurtured, guided and shaped ["...bridle all your passions, that ye may be filled with love ..." is more than just dicta in the scripture]

Regaining feelings is like stepping out of a cave into noon-day light: intense, starling, blinding and confusing. Many people step into disaster, others hide back in the darkness. But, with understanding, you can come back safely into the light, living a life more vivid than it was before, and more rewarding.

If you have lost touch with your feelings and find them returning, regardless of the cause, it is my hope that keeping these four points in mind will help you succeed in the transition.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

What it means to preside.

He emphasized this point, emphatically declaring that a man who said, "'I hold the priesthood and you've got to do what I say'" ... should be tried for his membership." [ellipses in original]

-- from Lengthen Your Stride, The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimpball, Deseret Book, 168-169


a medley by Stephen M (Ethesis)

a man is supple and weak when living
hard and stiff when dead

No power or influence can be maintained, except

the hard and the strong are the signs of death
the supple and changing the signs of life

by persuasion, by long suffering, by meekness and by gentleness

that which is forceful will not vanquish
that which is strong will fall to the axe

by kindness and pure knowledge

the strong fails
the supple succeeds

without hypocrisy and without guile

nothing is more submissive and weak than water
yet for breaking mountains, nothing can surpass it

Charity and virtue

that the weak overcome the strong, the
submissive the hard, all know
Yet none can put it into practice

Then the priesthood shall distill upon thy soul

as the dew from heaven and without

compulsory means dominion

shall flow unto thee

Forever and ever

Lao Tze
Tao Te Ching

Joseph Smith
Doctrine and Covenants 121

My thoughts on what the priesthood means and what it means to "preside" -- it means a call (a reminder, a duty, a command) to act by persuasion, by long suffering, by meekness and by gentleness by kindness and pure knowledge, without hypocrisy and without guile.

Friday, April 07, 2006

I had really feared I was broken forever.

I had really feared I was broken forever. Each child that died, and each of the miscarriages, took something out of me. Each death broke a coping mechanism, which is normal, and the succession of deaths did not give them time to heal or be restored. After three funerals, and three miscarriages (and yes, my poor wife went through pregnancy eight times and has only two children to show for it) I had mostly shattered shards of myself.

We had reached a sort of peace, the two of us and our one surviving child, who so much did not want to be left alone, when my wife decided to put off graduate school for a year. That brought Rachel into our lives. Beautiful, bright, happy, resourceful (right now she is trying to figure out how to read in bed when she is supposed to be sleeping, but she has gotten into fourth grade books and loves them), she has forced us all to deal with things that were buried and hidden.

But amazingly, in many ways she has given us our lives back as well. We thought we were living, but in so many ways, because of her we are no longer broken. Things in my life that had failed me are suddenly working again (such as being able to go for long walks).

Replacement children are a disaster in grief. The literature and the community are filled with examples. But subsequent children, taken on their own, are so precious. We had anticipated that so much with Robin, and then she died. I did not think I could ever face a baby again. I'm so glad we did. It is so good to not be permanently broken after all.

BTW, for those of you who have noticed that MA is displaying my name, but no links to posts or post titles, they are aware of the problem and are looking into it. I'm sure they will figure it out, just some technical glitch that is affecting only my blog, but shouldn't last. It appears to be a problem from a Blogger setting with a changed default, I'm hoping it is cured.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The diet is still working. I lost 44 pounds.

The diet is still working. [latest diet entry here -- I'd lost fifty pounds when I wrote that] I'm amazed at how differently I think and feel about food. The weight loss is a nice side effect, but what has been very interesting are the mental changes. I just don't think about food the same way and I'm healthier (and 44 pounds lighter [at the time of this entry, I've lost more weight since]) for it. Seth's book at explains it, but unlike most diets, all it took was five dollars of extra-light olive oil from Costco. No expensive food plans, no hard to find items, no real disruption of my routine. His on-line forums are at

If you want just the food plan version (where you eat only prepared foods, every meal different), then try Rachael Ray 365: No Repeats--A Year of Deliciously Different Dinners (A 30-Minute Meal Cookbook).

For more information, see:
  • Calorie Lab

    • A long discussion with a lot of comments following afterwards.
[If you want specifics I lost sixteen pounds the first thirty days, then ten pounds the second thirty, and it turns out seven and a half pounds the third thirty days. I'm now losing about a pound a week, which fits with the total calories that I'm eating. I no longer feel like I'm on a diet, what I eat is just the food I eat normally and I'm happy with it. I'm also in an OA group, which has really helped me deal with the emotions that eating was submerging. It got me through the holidays and the memories of my three dead children.]

BTW, for the facts on the "standard" diets, see this post at Alas, A Blog.

An excerpt:

From a review of empirical tests of weight-loss plans by Wayne Miller, an exercise science specialist at George Washington University:

No commercial program, clinical program, or research model has been able to demonstrate significant long-term weight loss for more than a small fraction of the participants. Given the potential dangers of weight cycling and repeated failure, it is unscientific and unethical to support the continued use of dieting as an intervention for obesity.

Let's closely examine a study cited as proof that weight loss diets work (I examined this study in a previous post): "Behavioural correlates of successful weight reduction over 3y," from The International Journal of Obesity (2004, volume 28, pages 334-335).

Normal diets are unscientific and unethical impositions that have, as their only result, reduced health and increased fat to muscle ratios after the cycle has run.

Other posts and important links on this topic:

Seth's book at

Dallas Judo -- where I work out when I'm not at Bali Fitness with the weights. The program there is better than I had hoped for (which reminds me, I need to do a post on expectations).

Additional Links on The Shangri-La Diet By Seth Roberts Ph.D.

Additional Links on The Shangri-La Diet By Seth Roberts Ph.D.
Feel free to add more links in the comments. I've linked to the notable blogs that hit the topic in my main entry on the diet.

While many who grieve gain weight "there is great solace in food" a friend told me, there is more to surviving grief than eventually finding a way to lose the weight again. I've probably finished with blogging about the diet for a while after this burst in April (much of which I backdated, so it was never the current blog post on my blog and did not show up in the accumulators. I want the information where people can find it, but I don't want it overwhelming other things).

Monday, April 03, 2006

It is not is not the promises made, but that it delivers

The strange thing about Dr. Roberts' book is not the promises it makes, but that it delivers.

My book review

Also, as to the alternatives: -- must read for anyone who just says "exercise and eat less." As the author says: "I for one feel underwhelmed.

2, 4, 5, 6, 8, 9 and 10 can be summed up as "eat more fruit and veggies, and cut your calorie intake." (Number 9 doesn't appear at first glance to be a calorie-cutting tip, but when you read the details it turns out they think that people who eat in front of the TV eat more). 3 and 7 can be summed up as "exercise more." So 9 of the Top Ten Tips are the two most commonplace and well-known weight loss strategies known to humankind.

Do they honestly think that the 75% of fat people (80% of obese people) who want to lose weight have never thought of eating less and exercising more? That notion has just never been presented to them before January 2006, and that's why they're fat?

Good lord, how can these people look at themselves in the mirror? (Answer: they're thin, and to them that's the only criteria that matters.) What kind of brainless moron of a researcher brightly chirps to newspapers that fat people should try and lose weight by eating less and walking more, as if this is news?

J---s C----t! (And I say that as an atheist Jew.)

Sunday, April 02, 2006

When you smile, the whole world comes alive
I love you

That is an example of the next three step pattern. It is a way to say "I love you" to your spouse or children. The steps are
  1. A positive address (something that says "I love you" or "I value you" or "I adore you" or words that mean those messages).
  2. Comment (positive feedback on something)
  3. The "I love you" statement.

When you are kind like that, it makes me so happy
I hope you realize that your mother and I cherish you fiercely

There are many reasons why you should use this pattern, but using a three step "I love you" pattern makes your words more real, more nourishing, more connected. Especially in times of tragedy and despair, the words you use need to be real enough to nourish and connect.

Your new hair cut frames your face perfectly
I'm so happy to be married to you

The statements don't need to be connected or caused by each other and they don't need a point. They just need to be said, and they need to be said several times a day, without cross messages. (A cross message would be giving a loved one a nickname like "disaster" or "nimwitt" or anything else that doesn't carry love and admiration, or that focuses on a change you want made).

I love to lie next to you and just hear you breathe
You make me so happy

I love you.

Say it often.

BTW, next I'll post on the classic three step message. I was amazed to see in in action as a person in the grasp of narcissism was able to talk about how he had really made progress and communicated without his disorder submerging him. I was amazed, and it is a powerful tool.