Why you should give thanks after reading this

I’m grateful for $13 in my checking account until Tuesday. It helps me focus less on stuff and on what really matters.

I’m grateful for the chance to live by myself in a tiny apartment over a garage  for three months. The quiet here has led to some amazing inspiration and makes me treasure even the briefest of phone calls from home.

I’m grateful for walking down the hallway in high school day after, waiting for the name-calling, derisive comments and the laughter. It prepared me to help my own kids and blessed me with empathy for kids experiencing the same thing. Thanks-in-sand

I’m grateful for church held in an old schoolhouse where our most holy place consisted of a room with folding chairs on a wooden floor surrounded by a chalkboard. It taught me to never take for granted beautiful church buildings that now look and feel like mini temples.

I’m grateful for a dad who thought that watching television with him was good enough for bonding time. It gave me the resolve to be different, to be better for my children.

I’m grateful for those two car accidents on black ice, nearly drowning twice, just missing a head-on collision with a semi truck, nearly getting run over by a tractor and leaving two minutes later so I missed the incredible damage done by that moose crossing the road. It taught me that I’ve been protected by divine sources — that I can’t explain, but know to be true.

I’m grateful for a mom who made me memorize my first public talk at age 7 where I was so scared that I cried. And for that speech in humanities that may go down as the most epic fail in public speaking of all time. From those fails, I learned how to stand in front of a crowd and speak with some power and confidence.

I’m grateful for those who treated me unfairly and placed a tremendous burden on my family. It taught me humility and made me tougher.

I’m grateful for the guy who asked the homeless man in Dairy Queen, “would you like a sandwich,” and then bought him a meal. It taught me that nothing else matters.

I’m grateful to hear words like these, for they have taught me a whole new way to think of gratitude.

Could I suggest that we see gratitude as a disposition, a way of life that stands independent of our current situation? In other words, I’m suggesting that instead of being thankful for things, we focus on being thankful in our circumstances—whatever they may be. — Pres. Dieter F. Uchtdorf (General Conference, April 2014)

 

Newspaper has bigger worries besides me

Two printed columns in the last five months.

Both about little ol’ me.

The latest one is in today’s Standard Journal by Managing Editor Greg Little. He appears to be offended by my opinions expressed on Facebook about how they covered a news story. I am not mentioned by name, it’s very obvious who they are referring to.

Little excerpt

For a guy who’s leaving town with his family, heading for a new job and a new beginning, they sure seem fascinated by what I have to say. If I am so incompetent as they allege, why do my words matter?

It would be so easy to fire back, to bring up damning emails and documents that I have in my possession. It would be so easy to seek out a lawyer to demand a retraction, or to march out numerous concerned citizens who have approached me to discuss the current direction of the newspaper.

But I don’t have time for that. Instead I’ll let Rexburg Mayor Richard Woodland speak for me. This is an excerpt from a mailing that was sent out to all media organizations and will go out with utility bills to everyone:

We seem to face a time within the City of Rexburg and Madison County where nay saying has become a popular sport or tool of a radical fringe that seems to be encouraged by an out of state newspaper. The Rexburg Standard Journal was at one time a locally owned and valuable asset to this community, however the current out of state owners have assumed  that “ginned up” controversies might sell more newspapers. Instead of being a builder it has become an adversary to the good people of this community. There has been such a diatribe against local officials that make them wonder why they bother to serve. Yet they do so, because they are builders. The naysayers are not builders! Some of them have been defeated in their attempts at becoming elected. They will not endure! Their names will be forgotten! Only the names of builders are remembered.

Trust me, mayor. I know how you feel.

I will be fine. My family and I are excited for what the future brings and grateful for the many friends we have made here in Rexburg. I can’t help but worry about the future of the Standard Journal. When a community newspaper loses the support of much of the community, they have more to be concerned about than whatever I have to say.

 

local news

The best “customer service” when I needed it the most

I didn’t pay attention to him at first, because I just wanted a place to wait with nobody bothering me.

With my wife shopping in another part of the store, I put my head down and stared at my phone like we all do.  

Less than a minute later, the restaurant employee worked to my attention from the other side of the room.

“Can I help you with something, or do you just need a place to sit,” he asked me politely from behind the counter. He was a clean-cut young man, one that I used to attend the same local LDS ward with for a time. I vaguely remembered he was a married student pursuing some sort of degree at BYU-Idaho, but not much else.

I motioned that I was fine and returned to my phone, struggling to set up an email account with little success.

It was several minutes later before I noticed him again, efficiently wiping down walls behind me.

“Do you need me to move,” I asked.

“No, you’re good,” he said with a smile, moving around to the other side of my table.

He was so polite to me and I didn’t deserve it. Despite all the blessings showered upon my family, despite all the good people I had met and the miracles I had seen, my spiritual tanks were running low tonight.

It wasn’t too much later when the employee asked about my employment prospects. He knew that I had been unemployed for five months, but didn’t know much about the acrimony that never seemed to let up.

I told him about my new job and how I would be leaving for Oregon in less than a week.

After he offered congratulations, he looked at me.

“I know it probably hasn’t been easy for you here,” he said. “When I first saw you in church, I noticed how much energy you had to live the gospel. That really made an impression on me.”

I smiled, mumbled thanks and he returned to his duties.

I tried but couldn’t concentrate on anything else except what he said.

Before I left, I walked across the room and motioned for him to come out of the back.

“Remind me what you’re studying,” I said to him. He was working his way toward becoming a lawyer.

“Thanks for what you said,” I told him.

It hasn’t been easy here at times, I said. In fact, it’s been incredibly hard. “But your comment means a lot to me,” I said.

After shaking hands, I walked out of the restaurant with a smile and more energy.

All because of some of the best customer service when I needed it the most.

 

Go look in the garbage

1-garbage blog

I knew something was wrong when I read the words from the website.

The Idaho Department of Labor said my unemployment benefits would arrive in a plain, white envelope from Fargo, N.D. While a very secure way to deliver a debit card containing our benefits, it could easily be misidentified as junk mail.

The next thought alarmed me. I suddenly remembered seeing such an envelope and had mistakenly thrown it away in our garbage bin. The thought was so clear, so illuminating  I knew it was from the Spirit.

There was a chance it was still in the garbage. But today was garbage pick-up day. I had to hurry. I threw on some clothes and headed to the curb. As I walked out the door. I could hear the unmistakable sound of a garbage truck, just three houses down.

I quickened my pace.

I quickly threw open the bin and started rifling through sacks of garbage.

From one house away, I could see truck drop my neighbor’s bin back in place. My house was next. Still nothing.

Right as he pulled up to me, I caught a glimpse of a tattered, white envelope at the very bottom of the bin. The return address: Fargo, N.D.

The driver watched with amusement as I tossed a garbage sack back in, shut the lid and held up the envelope in triumph.

Stepping off to the side, I panicked again as the envelope contained several papers relating to my benefits card, but no actual card was visible.

As I was about to give up hope, I turned a paper over and there was it was — affixed to a piece pf paper.

I looked up into heaven and mouthed a “thank you.” And made a vow to get this changed to direct deposit by the end of the day.

 

The wrong way to get to the right way

Which direction to take?

A young Elder Holland stared at the two roads, praying to know which direction to go.

 

Very little of it made sense.

It didn’t make sense that I knew I was supposed to go to this job interview in another state, in another time zone, some 1,000 miles away.

It didn’t make sense because — although the job sounded pretty good on paper — it involved leaving my family for several months, working regular Sunday hours and returning to a newspaper, something I wasn’t sure I was ready for.

Yet as I fasted and prayed beforehand about the job opportunity, I had that knowledge, that undeniable conviction, that I needed to go to Washington state to study it out in my mind and figure it out for myself.

Driving into Port Angeles, it felt good at first. Many of the people there were so kind, the salary was more than I expected and it gave me a chance to relive the incredible scenery of the Olympic Peninsula. My mom lived next to 50 miles to the west.

One of the beautiful lakes where I would be working.

One of the beautiful lakes where I would be working.

I started talking myself into how our family could live there, how maybe I could sneak into church on Sundays and justify working the rest of the Sabbath at the newspaper.

Then came the shattering news on Day 2 of my tryout there. My son-in-law, Nick, had been rushed to the emergency room the night before, on the verge of death. And my good wife, who had portrayed strength through so many trials this year, showed signs of emotion, fatigue and stress.

From the darkness of that conference room in Port Angeles, the quiet voice from within was unmistakable, “You need to go home.”

I informed my wife and everyone at the newspaper that I needed to rush home. They understood and put everything on hold.

Two days later, I made it to Rexburg, and by the next morning, had traveled to University of Utah Hospital in Salt Lake City. I would spend much of that next week after that providing whatever support I could as Nick made a miraculous recovery from severe bleeding in his brain.

While I was in Salt Lake City, I felt prompted one afternoon to visit the LDS Tabernacle on temple square. From my seat near the back of the building, I sketched out on a piece of paper the pros and cons with this job in Port Angeles. Around me, tourists from other parts of the world listened as missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints demonstrated the remarkable acoustics of the historic building.

As I did that, I felt prompted to look up talks on keeping the Sabbath Day holy from general authorities.

I read excerpts from the first few talks on the subject, before coming to this one from Elder John H. Groberg. I wasn’t even done before I knew my answer. It was not right for me to accept employment that required me to work on Sunday. Everybody else has different circumstances, but this my revelation for my circumstances at this time.

Still, as I wrote the letter to the newspaper executives explaining the situation and withdrawing my name from consideration, one thought persisted.

If Heavenly Father knew all along that this wasn’t the right job and that this was the wrong road, why did I feel so strongly like I needed to go there? It surely wasn’t a surprise to him that NIck would be sick and I would be needed on the morning of the second day. Not to mention that we spent a significant amount of our cash reserves for some trip expenses.

It didn’t make sense at all.

Until this week, when a friend sent me this story from Elder Jeffrey Holland, about when he and his son were returning home late in the evening from a wilderness exploration and came to a fork in the road.

As they both prayed about which way to go, father and son both felt strongly like they should take the road to the right. They didn’t travel more than 400 feet before realizing it was the wrong road.

“We went to the right and it was a dead end … clearly the wrong road,” Holland said, recounting the story. After retracing their route, they ended up on the right road heading home.

As I pondered this story, I realized that this was my answer. That we needed to experience a slight detour to help remind us what the right path looked like.

We’re still walking, and it might take awhile. But thanks to that detour 1,000 miles away, we know we’re headed in the right direction.

Watch the story of Elder Holland and the wrong road below.

 

Five lessons from the unemployment line

Found these principles scrawled on a crumpled up Taco Bell napkin.

1. Life isn’t fair. Deal with it.
Sometimes bad things happen to good people. Trouble knocks early at your door when you’re still in your pajamas. The phone rings and it’s the school again. Somebody else needs to go to the hospital. Your mom wants you to fix her computer from 1,000 miles away. And somebody ate all the snacks.

For proper perspective, go read this post by Middle-Aged Mormon Man and consider this quote from Pres. Thomas S. Monson from General Conference earlier this month.

Whenever we are inclined to feel burdened down with the blows of life, let us remember that others have passed the same way, have endured, and then have overcome.

2. Stop murmuring. Stop it now.
If there were such a thing, I would so own the Murmuring Merit Badge. It used to  be so easy to complain, so easy to channel Lamen and Lemuel. Even though we profess to trust God and his plan of happiness (emphasis added), let’s complain to anybody who will listen. And not only that, Murmurers find themselves as tourism promoters for the Land of Woe. Nephi had to endure so much murmuring that he couldn’t even begin to mention all the complaining from his brothers. “Now I do not write upon these plates all the words which they murmured against me. But it sufficeth me to say, that they did seek to take away my life.”

3. Following the prophets provides a literal temporal and spiritual refuge.
Three months ago, we were prompted to cash out a sizable 401K, despite the penalty that comes with early withdrawal. We paid down significant medical debt, eliminating several bills in the process. It so tempting to take the remainder and buy some expensive toys or to travel somewhere. We could have easily done both. Instead we felt prompted to tuck it away as a c ash reserve, just in case.

One month later, I lost my job. Because we listened to the prophets and their advice on debt, we have enough cash reserves to get us by for at least a few more months.

4. Elder Bednar is right.
If you haven’t already, go back and reread his talk from last conference on “The Windows of Heaven.” The blessings from paying tithes and offerings are true. I’ve seen it so many times, even the small and subtle miracles that he mentions. I’ve posted the entire talk here for you to review again.

5. Put the gospel first.
Yes, you need education and training. Yes, you need to know the skills to find a job, because, as fathers, you are “responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families.” But our employment (or lack thereof) will not ultimately define us in this life. 

Back to Pres. Monson.

The history of the Church in this, the dispensation of the fulness of times, is replete with the experiences of those who have struggled and yet who have remained steadfast and of good cheer. The reason? They have made the gospel of Jesus Christ the center of their lives. This is what will pull us through whatever comes our way. We will still experience difficult challenges, but we will be able to face them, to meet them head on, and to emerge victorious.

The Lord knows what we need, both temporally and spiritually. By putting him first and seeking his plan for us, we will emerge victorious. 

 

What she said

It seemed different when I said goodbye today. Maybe because I somehow knew it might never be the same when I returned to this little yellow house on the lake.

It didn’t start out that way as I walked through her tiny kitchen this morning, making that same final run-thru that I’ve always done after each visit here for more than 25 years.

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The birdhouse viewed from the kitchen with the lake in the background.

The whole morning I’ve been pestering my daughter, Micah.

Hurry, we got to make time.

Do we have everything?

We don’t want to get caught in traffic.

Saying goodbyes were always fairly easy because we always knew there would be a next time. We always came back, because of the magic here, the memories and a chance to step back in time.

Mom’s luscious backyard garden in its prime provided healing balm for any worries our troubles. It was that beautiful.

When it rained here, as it so often did, we would climb the old wooden ladder into the attic where my son would experiment with the record player more than 40 years old. Even as the wind howled and the skies would unleash torrents of water, we felt safe. We could stay there for hours.

You felt the same way here in the summertime, watching the leaves dance in the blue sky above you from the comfort of a nearby hammock tied between two trees.

Because something told me I should, I’m in the living room now, filming my oldest daughter and her grandma side-by-side on the couch. Because this is way more important than any schedule.

At one point in the conversation, I can’t help but interrupt.

“Isn’t this where you say something nice about me,” I ask, in almost a teasing manner, because I know her. This is so tough for her to say and has been for years.

She looks down, glances at Micah and out the window toward the lake in front of her. The pause seems to last forever when she finally makes a reference to my bald head.

With the video still recording, I ask one more question.

“Are you sure you don’t want to say anything nice about me,” I ask again.

She looks directly through the large living room window in front of her.

“Nice rain we’re having,” she says.

A few minutes later, mom watches as Micah and I pick up our things and prepare to say goodbye.

“I love you,” she tells Micah.

I look at her with a mischievous smile and ask about me.

“Well I love you too.”

Little did I know that the yellow house overlooking the lake would save its best magic for when I needed it the most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why this isn’t so bad

Not working

Of course I would rather be working.

Give me Door No. 1 – the option with steady employment, the ability meet our financial obligations each month and the one that keeps me out of the most trouble at home.

Nobody wants to be one of the gazillion people filing unemployment claims each week, coming up with new ways to cook pasta and feeling guilty for buying a soda. I’m the point man for dishes, garbage, driving and any other chore out there.

One thing that I forgot to mention. This is the best thing that’s happened to me since I discovered cherry turnovers.

Now that I’ve been sent to timeout from the workforce, it’s a chance to step back and re-examine myself. What are my strengths? What are my weaknesses? I have more time to spend in the gym, to increase my spirituality and become a better father and husband.

For months, even years, my family rarely saw me around dinner. Now they probably wish I didn’t spend so much time at home.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, dad, but we like the actor who used to stand in for you. He used to bring us treats and let us stay up late.

I am more mindful of others and seek more opportunities to serve.

Sooner than later, I will return to work with the goal to replace an uncertain future with more stability. But I won’t be surprised if I look back and see that this couldn’t come at a better time.

 

Mr. (Not) Right

Welcome to Team Henneke, where everybody not only wants to be right, but needs to be right.

No way will we give into the other person because that would be — wrong.

We have to be right about everything, it seems. Including the exact date when dad first reached puberty, the number of times he posts on Facebook each day, who did the last load of towels and the proper location for toothpaste on the bathroom counter. mr-right

At our house, folks exercise their right to be right in practically any instance. It could be during a blessing on the food, during a football game or in a room full of VIPs.

As for me, I can’t say here if I am right or not, because somebody might take issue with it. Because it’s my blog, just pretend that I speak the truth for the next 30 seconds.

It doesn’t matter to me as much if I win a debate. I don’t care to defend any allegations that somebody does more housework than me. Or that nobody believes me when I deny any responsibility for using the milk jug as a doorstop.

Actually, it’s quite entertaining to purposely mess with those who have to be right. It shakes them up, makes them question the very reason for their existence.

The key is to calmly state any of the retorts listed below and walk away.

1. The sun won’t come up tomorrow.

2. I don’t owe you any money. If it’s not on Facebook, it didn’t happen.

3. Yes, I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. I’m not at my best under general anesthesia.

4. I firmly believe Congress will do the right thing.

5. Nobody has shown any conclusive evidence that leaving mayo out for six hours can be harmful to you.

6. That Billy character on Family Circus should do stand-up. He’s that funny.

Now that I know my place, I don’t always need to have the last word. Unless you disagree with me, then I will have speak up.

Because, let’s be honest. It’s the right thing to do.

My last conversation with Joe

It’s been a year now and I still think about him.

The rulebook says Joe is my step-father but I don’t listen. Even though I only knew him for about six years, this is my dad.

He is my dad because he forgave me for my ineptitude with tools. It didn’t matter to him that I drove nails like a first-grader. Or that I couldn’t spot the difference between a 5/8 wrench and a 3/16.

He is my dad because he let me drive the purple ski boat one day, even though mom thought for sure I would drive it into a boathouse. Joe showed faith in me when I didn’t have faith in myself.

He is my dad because he reminded me how to treat mom, or any lady for that matter. No matter how tired he was, she came first. He got her the water, the extra piece of pie or a warmer coat. Because that’s what dads do for their wives, no matter how tough it might be.

Joe taught me to shun indolence and embrace service. He never stopped moving in his trademark suspenders, always creating, learning, thinking or helping. In the twilight of his life, nothing could stop him. There’s no doubt my dad could take Superman in a fair fight.

He didn’t talk too me much for most our time together, leaving me wondering if I measured up enough.

Dad almost always answered the phone when I called home.

“How’s Michael?” he would ask.

Joe would listen while I carried the bulk of the conversation. Then it usually ended with him saying, “let me give the phone to your mother.”

I still remember the day when they told me about the cancer, how serious it was. They were going to beat it, they promised. But somehow I knew.

The pain he endured over the next few years would make a grizzly bear cry. Not my dad. He didn’t want anybody to worry so he kept it to himself as long as he could. Until even he couldn’t bear it anymore. Because that’s what dads do.

In the end, I got the call.

If you want to say good-bye, you better come now, my mom said. It won’t be long.

As I drove the six hours home, I wondered what I would say to him. Was I worthy of his respect? I still wasn’t completely sure.

While I was there that week, I watched as the Hospice nurse came to the home for the first time, I was in the room when the doctor told him he he had two weeks to two months to live. Dad spent most of his time on the couch because he was too weak to get up anymore, the cancer reducing him to a shell of his former self.

Two days before I was to return to Oregon, he started eating again. He stood up, even taking short walks down the driveway again. Maybe my good-bye visit was premature.

Looking back, I wonder if his resurgence came so we could have that final drive one afternoon, just the two of us. He sat in the passenger seat and talked while I listened. He talked about his love for family, for me and what lay ahead. Joe told me things I wanted to hear for a long time.

Today marks the one-year anniversary of his death. But thanks to that last conversation during that sun-drenched afternoon, I know that he loves me.

Because that’s what dads do.