The tapping on the window

Surrounded by the darkness of the Walmart parking lot, the unexpected tapping on my driver’s side window made me jump.

For I was in the middle of making my peace — explaining to my wife of 28 years why I wouldn’t be home until after 11 p.m. on my anniversary. So this distraction couldn’t come at a worst time.

Inside the van, the faint glow from a cabin dome light revealed an opened anniversary card between the two seats. A scrawled note in my customary block lettering was my attempt at an apology. My wife had spent much of the day on the road, bringing home Lacey from nearly four hours away because of extensive foot surgery — for the fifth time. 

While Barb and Spencer stayed with Lacey for nearly four days, I remained home in Roseburg to work — including my regular shift on this Saturday.

Now that tapping from the window.

When I jerked my head to the left, a woman in her early 60s with curly hair that appeared the color of chili powder, stared back while mouthing something I couldn’t quite understand.

Looks like somebody else wants money, I thought as I rolled the window down.

Until she held up the jumper cables.

Please sir, she said. Their car was dead on another aisle of the parking lot, and would I come over and jumpstart their battery.

I glanced quickly at the anniversary card to my right and back to her.

I’m embarrassed to say, I came this close to telling her no. That I didn’t have time. In my rush to do the right thing to honor my marriage, I nearly told somebody in need to shove off.

Thankfully, I didn’t.

I swung the van around to see the woman standing next to their vehicle. Next to her was another woman with white hair. A clean-cut teen, also dressed in obvious Christmas attire, left the warmth of the vehicle to try and help.

I soon learned from the white-haired woman that the teen was to blame for this dead battery. He had sat for a period of time in the car with his cell phone, draining his battery in the process.

“He doesn’t know much about anything,” she told me.

Despite that negative endorsement, he proceeded to attach the cables to the correct posts in their car and then to my van.

I motioned for him to start his vehicle, where it started on the first try.

“Hey, it looks like he knows about cars,” I said while smiling at the white-haired woman.

When I mentioned that today was my anniversary, the two women looked at me shocked before offering repeated apologies.

I assured them I was glad to help, and my wife would understand.

Sure enough, she did. It may have been for less than hour this year, but we still managed to mark this special day.

This time, we happened to include a few extra people who needed us.


Right place at the right time

Harold Hall, and grandson Josiah Hall, 10, pose in the home of Harold and Micki Hall in Roseburg, Oregon on Monday, July 6 2015. (AP Photos/The News-Review, Mike Henneke)

Harold Hall, and grandson Josiah Hall, 10, pose in the home of Harold and Micki Hall in Roseburg, Oregon on Monday, July 6 2015. (AP Photos/The News-Review, Mike Henneke)

By Mike Henneke Story first appeared on on July 7, 2015

Near the top of the Callahan mountain range west of Roseburg, while standing next to a mountain climber who had life-threatening injuries, Harold Hall had a crucial decision to make Saturday.

Either send his 10-year-old grandson, Josiah Hall, down a steep, dangerous trail by himself to get help, or leave Josiah alone with the climber clinging to life, with multiple fractures and no feeling in his legs, while Harold set out to alert authorities to the accident.

Harold Hall, a 63-year-old experienced climber and semi-retired dentist, asked Josiah to stay with injured Daniel Cooper a little more than an hour while Harold traveled down the steep trail for help.

Alone on a mountain forest trail next to Cooper, Josiah prayed for the first time in his life.

“I prayed that he would live,” Josiah said.

For Harold and Josiah Hall, the plan was simple that Saturday morning. Harold would take three dogs and Josiah, who was visiting from Salt Lake City, to the top of the Callahans, where they would sip cold Dr. Peppers while enjoying a sweeping view of Douglas County.

It wouldn’t be an easy hike. The trail is on private Weyerhaeuser land, includes many switchbacks and climbs 1,200 feet in elevation in a little more than a mile. Harold Hall, who helps Greg Orton teach climbing classes at Umpqua Community College, said students refer to the trail as the “trail from hell.”

Harold and Josiah parked near the locked gate and set out on a dirt logging road with two fox terriers belonging to Harold and Micki Hall and a 12-year-old, overweight cairn terrier named Clifden that belongs to Harold’s daughter.

Next to the gate was a car with California plates. The car belonged to Daniel Cooper. An avid climber from California, Cooper came to the Callahans to climb on his own. At about 8:30 a.m., he texted his wife that his ropes were all set. lists the Callahans as “a series of sandstone crags that sit 1,500 vertical feet above the Flournoy Valley below, on a beautiful fir tree covered hill formation.” The land is owned by Weyerhauser, according to the site, but the “access is open for climbers.”

Weyerhauser, however, has tightened restrictions on the area, requiring a permit for anybody choosing to hike or climb.

Harold Hall said he chose this hike because he knew other sites would be much more populated on the Fourth of July.

As Clifden continued to struggle on the hike, Harold Hall shortened their intended route. The decision would move them closer to where Cooper was climbing much sooner than anticipated.

The Halls were within 200 yards of the top of the Callahans when they heard a noise that sounded like a yell and a “big thud.”

Harold Hall at first thought a rock had fallen, not suspecting it had been a climber.

As Harold and Josiah came around the bend, they saw Cooper, bleeding and lying with his head below his feet on a steep incline, approximately 20 feet off the trail. Cooper, who could barely talk, complained of severe neck pain and what would turn out to be multiple fractures.

That’s when Harold Hall decided to leave Josiah to watch over the injured climber while he went for help.

The forested trail reminded Josiah of “Predator,” a science-fiction horror film starring Arnold Schwarzenegger that he had seen a few weeks earlier with his dad.

“… I’m not used to being alone for an hour and 10 minutes,” Josiah said Monday. “Especially in the forest when you are afraid the Predator is going to come at you and kill you.”

The possibility that Cooper might not live also concerned Josiah.

“And I was really scared,” Josiah said. “I didn’t want to see someone die.”

Harold Hall headed down the steep terrain, walking along the treacherous trail as fast as he could. Because he has two bad knees from years of climbing, running was not an option.

“If I had been younger, I could have run down the trail.” Harold said later.

He forgot to bring his cell phone, something his wife Micki Hall said he will remember next time.

“Grandpa always forgets his phone,” Micki said. “Maybe not anymore, but he did that day.”

Harold Hall reached the locked Weyerhaeuser gate in about 30 minutes, then went to the nearest house to call for help. He pounded on the door until Greg Suhrstedt, 19, answered the door. Within minutes of the call to 911, Greg’s father, John Suhrstedt, and his wife returned home. John Suhrstedt, 59, a retired paramedic and already dressed for hiking, left immediately up the trail with Greg until rescue teams could arrive.

“I think there was a lot of divine intervention in that whole thing, I got to tell you,” John Suhrstedt said Monday.

Harold Hall stayed back at the locked gate to direct rescue teams once they arrived.

After more than 30 minutes, Josiah continued to do his best to keep Cooper talking. He asked him what happened, but Cooper could remember very little.

“Too bad you don’t have a phone,” Josiah Hall said to the injured climber.

“It’s in my back pocket,” Cooper told him.

When a search of Cooper’s pockets revealed nothing, Josiah searched the nearby ground until he found the phone under some sticks. Despite Cooper having fallen an estimated 30 feet, the phone still worked.

Josiah moved back to the trail and called 911.

“Hi, my name is Josiah and I am 10 years old,” he told the dispatcher. “An injured climber needs help.”

“Are you Harold Hall’s grandson?” the voice on the other end asked. “Yes,” said Josiah.

Help was on the way.

Once the Suhrstedts arrived, John examined Cooper and made a startling discovery. Cooper’s arm was pinned under his side and had lost all circulation. Even though moving Cooper meant the risk of inducing paralysis, John Suhrstedt knew he had to get Cooper off of his side or risk losing the arm.

John and Greg Suhrstedt painstakingly adjusted Cooper onto his back and kept him stable until help arrived.

“We had no choice, because I know we’d lose that arm if we didn’t,” John Suhrstedt said.

The Steep Angle Rescue Team from Douglas County Fire District No. 2 arrived along with members of the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and Douglas Fire Protection Association. Because of the steep incline and the severity of Cooper’s injuries, stabilizing him and preparing him for transport proved to be a complex process.

Rescuers moved Cooper approximately 200 yards to the top of the mountain where he was loaded into a waiting Life Flight helicopter at about 1:30 p.m. and taken to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend in Springfield. As of this morning, Cooper was listed in critical condition.

Three days later, Josiah Hall is taking it all in stride about his adventure on the Callahans.

“I know a lot of 10-year-olds, but I don’t know any who have actually saved a person,” Josiah said Monday. “I only know that my best friend saved a baby bird.”

Rob Bullock, battalion chief for Fire District No. 2, said Josiah deserves praise for staying with Cooper for more than an hour.

“Not a lot of 10-year-olds that could have stayed with him for that length of time,” Bullock said.

Suhrstedt said Cooper is lucky that Harold and Josiah Hall showed up when they did. Because of the remoteness of the area, it easily could have taken much longer before Cooper was discovered. Suhrstedt said the injured climber could have lost his arm or even his life.

“These guys here saved this guy’s bacon by showing up when they did,” he said.

‘We’re going to have to get this guy’

How a Roseburg man helped subdue a suspected terrorist

By Mike Henneke First appeared on on Aug. 21, 2015

When Alek Skarlatos heard what sounded like a gunshot and breaking glass on the train ride from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday, he nudged his friend next to him.

Something wasn’t right.

An innocent vacation in Europe, involving two buddies since childhood, was about to take a terrifying turn.

A gunman armed with a Russian-made assault rifle, handgun and a knife opened fire on the train, wounding two people before Skarlatos, 22, and Spencer Stone, 22, from Carmichael, California, took action.

“We’re going to have to get this guy,” Alek told Stone, as the story was related later to Alek’s parents, Emanuel and Karen Skarlatos of Roseburg.

Both friends were in the military — Alek had returned home to Roseburg in June as a member of the National Guard Charlie Company unit, and Stone is on active duty with the U.S. Air Force.

As the story was related later by Emanuel Skarlatos, both young men said they reacted on instinct.

“When the clip malfunctioned, they took their chance and bum-rushed the guy,” Karen Skarlatos said.

Once the clip jammed in the gun of the suspect, later identified as a 26-year-old Moroccan, Stone charged at the gunman first, with Alek following close behind. Anthony Sadler, a senior at Sacramento State University who was traveling with Stone and Skarlatos, also joined the effort to subdue the assailant. Stone tackled the gunman while Alek was eventually able to secure both of the guns. According to Emanuel Skarlatos, Alek struck the gunman on the side of the head repeatedly with the butt of the AK-47 until the three Americans, who were joined by a Briton, could “hogtie” the suspect for police, who met the train at the next stop.

Stone received cuts from the knife during the struggle, including severe damage to one of his thumbs, but his injuries are not life threatening.

Sadler told The AP that they saw a train employee sprint down the aisle followed by a gunman with an automatic rifle.

“As he was cocking it to shoot it, Alek just yells, ‘Spencer, go!’ And Spencer runs down the aisle,” Sadler said. “Spencer makes first contact — he tackles the guy. Alek wrestles the gun away from him, and the gunman pulls out a box cutter and slices Spencer a few times. And the three of us beat him until he was unconscious.”

Alek’s father and stepmother were at their Roseburg home Friday when they received the cell phone call from Alek in Europe. Emanuel was working in the yard when he heard his wife screaming from the house for him to come to the phone.

“She was a little bit annoyed that I wasn’t coming quick enough,” Emanuel Skarlatos said.

Even after Alek relayed the story to his father, the reality of what happened didn’t sink in for Emanuel. His son and his friends were heroes.

“I didn’t think it was as big as it was,” Emanuel said. “But it’s a world-wide thing.”

Very much so, judging by the global media attention received by the Skarlatos family in just a few short hours.

A “Good Morning America” crew was en route to their home late Friday night. Journalists were calling nonstop from across the state and beyond.

While two local reporters were at the home speaking with the Emanuel and Karen Skarlatos, the phone rang again.

It was a call from a journalist in France.

Karen Skarlatos stood in the room next to the fireplace as the evening sky turned to darkness and told the story again.

As she talked, tears came to her eyes. Emanuel walked up next to her and put his arm around her while she spoke.

Can I speak with Alek, asked the voice on the other end in English. Everybody wanted to thank Alek, because he is considered a national hero in France.

After the call, Karen Skarlatos began to cry again, causing her to share an embrace with her husband.

They’re tears of happiness, not sadness, she said.

“Because I’m so proud of him,” Karen said, “and I’m so happy that he’s good, that he’s safe.”

As Emanuel sat down to tell the story one more time, the phone rang again. And yet again.

Emanuel said the three friends almost delayed their trip to Paris, because they were having far too much fun elsewhere.

“It was lucky for the people on that train that they were there,” Emanuel said, tears welling up in his eyes.

“And it’s not to brag about my son and his friend,” Emanuel said. “But it was fortuitous for the people on that train.”

Emanuel paused, his voice choking with emotion.

“I’m proud that he’s my son,” he said.

Karen Skarlatos couldn’t resist one Facebook message to her son following his heroic efforts.

Alek Skarlatos wants to be a police officer.

“I don’t think you’ll have any problem getting a job,” she wrote.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

A long overdue apology to my journalist family

Josie Jacobs reunites with Chloe, a Corgi thought to be lost during a structure fire on Buckhorn Road.

Josie Jacobs reunites with Chloe, a Corgi thought to be lost during a structure fire on Buckhorn Road.

As I sit here exhausted, tearful and overcome by the smell of smoke, I need to write this to my family.

The same thing happened again tonight that’s occurred so many times to keep track of over the past 27 years as a journalist.

I call home tonight, just like I’ve done many other nights.

Just leaving the office, I tell them. I will be home in time for dinner for sure. I promise.

As I stand up to walk out the door of the newsroom, I hear word of a major structure fire over the scanner. I can’t ignore it.

While I was there, I watched a husband and wife react as they watch their home go up in flames, a place they’ve lived in since 1966. She mourned the loss of her two dogs, presumed to be victims of the fire.

I was there when family members heard a rustle in the bushes. It was one of the scared dogs looking for its owners. It was an honor to document the joyful reunion.

So I apologize for missing yet another dinner and showing up hours later than I said I would. Thank you, family, for sacrificing so I could help document this story.

You’ve watched with me as my trade teeters precariously off the edge of the cliff. You’ve heard my worries and my complaints.

But thanks for understanding as people like your dad and husband tell these stories for as long as we can.


Something to read while waiting at the well


Jesus Christ faces the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well as He tells her that He is the “living water.” (


I had barely walked into my future mother-in-law’s home for the first time when they offered me a glass of water.

So thoughtful, I thought to myself back in 1988. I could really grow to love this family living in Magna, Utah, at the time.

Not long after the first sip, I knew I was the victim of a good-natured prank, courtesy of Barbara, her mom and younger sisters. They lived in Magna, in the shadow of the Kennecott Utah Copper mine and delighted in introducing newcomers to “Magna water” for the first time.

For all I know, “Magna water” tastes much better now. After what I tasted in 1988, I wouldn’t even use it to water house plants.

It looked like a byproduct of Three Mile Island. The smell was worse than dogs rolling around in curdled milk. A dying man in the Sahara would say, “no thanks, I’ll take my chances.”

Much like the people in Magna in 1988, I didn’t have a choice about the source of my drinking water while growing up in Forks, Wash., during the late 70s. It ran from a nearby stream downhill through a plastic pipe and into a large, rusted holding tank. From the tank, it flowed further downhill to where it serviced our small neighborhood. No purifiers were added, no inspections were made by any regulatory agencies and we tried not to think what deposits were left by wildlife left in our water source.

The salamanders sure liked our water. At least two to four times a month, we would experience water outages often accompanied by a horrific smell. It took only a few times before we saw the same pattern. Armed with a flashlight, I would crawl under the house and open different water connections until I found the dead salamander stuck in our small black pipe — effectively blocking our water until I could remove it by hand.

It’s as gross as sounds, but until we could an afford an upgrade to our primitive water system, we had few other options. Brita filters had yet to be introduced in the U.S. We weren’t rich enough to truck in Perrier water.

In both cases, quenching our physical thirst depended on our means and our surroundings. Thankfully our Savior has clearly defined the way to quench our spiritual thirst.

Using his encounter with the woman by the well in Samaria, the Savior taught that about the Well of Living Water — that drinking daily from the fullness of the gospel of Jesus Christ would bring us true happiness and everlasting life. You can read about it here.

Elder Robert L. Simpson put it this way.

It is only this ‘living water,’ the gospel of Jesus Christ, that can and will bring a happy, a successful, and an everlasting life to the children of men.” (In Conference Report, Oct. 1968, p. 96)

In the Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Elder Bruce R. McConkie taught that the Living Water lesson in the New Testament is the “the words of eternal life, the message of salvation, the truths about God and his kingdom; it is the doctrines of the gospel.”

He further said, “Where there are prophets of God, there will be found rivers of living water, wells filled with eternal truths, springs bubbling forth their life-giving draughts that save from spiritual death.”

It’s important to note that McConkie isn’t telling us to blindly follow prophets. One of the main purposes of the Holy Ghost is to teach us and confirm truth — which could also include counsel from priesthood leaders, promises made in priesthood blessings, sacrament talks or messages from inspired lyrics.

But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. (John 14:26)

In his October 1983 General Conference address, McConkie refers to people who know about the Book of Mormon and still refuse to read it.

Instead of drinking from that fountain from whence clear streams of living water flow, they prefer to go downstream and drink from the roily, muddy, poison-filled streams of the world.

For you young people who think water comes from 7-Eleven or Circle K, just remember these three most important principles about (spiritual) wells.

1. Water from a well doesn’t just show up at your house. It’s not like Bountiful Baskets or a delivery from Amazon. You have to show up and draw from directly from the source.

2. Using a straw or Dixie cup to draw from the Well of Living Water is highly ineffective. Think about that when you’re checking Facebook during sacrament meeting, stake or General Conference. As somebody once said, bring a jug with you every week to sacrament meeting.

3. Unless you’re a camel, one trip to the well a week won’t work to quench your spiritual or physical thirst.

Attempting to drink from sources other than the Savior’s teachings or his divinely called prophets is much like passing up the Well of Living Water for a Big Gulp of Magna water. Seeking truth from sources other than the way outlined by the Savior might result in a few drops of water at first.

In the end, it will leave you feeling parched.





Why I am home right now

spencer blog post

I am home because my son has a mental illness.

I am home because he needs me to watch over him and keep him safe. I have temporarily stepped away from my career of nearly 30 years because I love him.

Thankfully he is safe as he can be … now. With the help of the right medicine, prayers and medical professionals, he is slowly regaining his balance in life.

He’s not normal, but then again, neither are the rest of us. For as someone once said, normal is only a setting on a washing machine.

But if “normal” means telling jokes that make me laugh out loud, we’ll take it. If normal means someone with the kindest of hearts who will listen and empathize with you, we’ll take it. We’ll take our son with an exceptional creative ability and love for animals.

As hopeful as we are for the return of the “real Spencer,” we are realistic.

It’s likely that he will have this for the rest of his life. That he will have to take medicine, continue to seek professional help and rely on family and friends who understand both his challenges and his great potential. He needs people who believe like we do, that Spencer is not defined by his mental illness.

It’s true that he may continue to struggle from the effects of medication. While great strides have been made in understanding mental illness, we recognize how little we still know. We’re grateful to live in a time where great minds give us hope for more answers.

As we do with all our children, we believe in Spencer’s divine potential for greatness. There’s no reason why he can’t be a force for good on this Earth and touch the lives of others.

He can do almost anything he sets his mind to, and we as his parents, will not tire in our efforts to help make that happen.

We couldn’t do this without a firm belief in God and his plan for us. Without that knowledge, it’s quite possible that my wife and I would have given up long ago. The excruciating toll exacted by mental illness is best understood by those who must experience it every day — along with those provide ongoing support.

You can make a difference for millions like Spencer, by showing more compassion and less judgment. By recognizing stereotypes for what they are and tossing them aside. By willing to stand up for those who can’t always stand up for themselves.

That’s why I wrote this. For so many years now, we’ve kept fairly quiet about Spencer’s mental illness. We’ve only shared with close family members and friends. We didn’t want people to misunderstand.

It’s time for more understanding. It’s time to educate more and hide less. There are millions of people who have to face their demons every day and often question the value of their existence. To them I say it’s very much worth it. And never give up hope.

It’s time we lobby for more resources and research. It’s time to reach out even more to those who suffer silently among us.

I will need to return to at least part-time work sooner than later. But nothing I do to earn a paycheck will be nearly as important than what I am doing now.

Staying home with Spencer.





The blessing and the importance of a fleece


Figured this would be cuter than what a true fleece from the Old Testament looked like.

At the time, it seemed like I was doubting the bishop. Who would want to do that?

I had no reason to do so after the bishop had given me such a wonderful priesthood blessing — one filled with the Spirit and specific answers to my medical questions concerning Spencer and my employment in the future. This followed an equally powerful blessing given to me by another member of the priesthood less than a month earlier.

And yet here I was, prepared to ask a my hometeacher for yet a third blessing. If ever there was a needy child of God, it was I. Having resigned my job in order to help Spencer with online school at home, it had been a grueling few months. My tank was running near empty, and I dared hope the Lord would give me a little boost.

Much like a young man in the Old Testament, who thought he was asked to  do the seemingly impossible for the Lord.


In Chapter 6 of Judges, we find the children of Israel in bondage to the Midianites, a group of nomadic tribes who had swept through the land from Southeastern Palestine.

In that chapter, an angel of the Lord shows up with a message to Gideon. The Lord wants him to lead Israel against the powerful Midianites, telling him in verse 16 that “thou shalt smite the Midianites as one man.”

Gideon’s response? You must have me confused with somebody else.

Gideon leading Israel from bondage against the Midianites.

Gideon leading Israel from bondage against the Midianites.

Responses such as this — whether it be in times of old or today — could surely exasperate the Lord. It would be so easy for Him to say: Move out of the way, my weak and faithless servant, and I will take care of this myself.

In his talk, “Lord I Believe,” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland reminded us that the Lord uses imperfect people to do his work. Because he has no other choice.

Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with. That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it. So should we.

So it was with Gideon. Even though there’s no doubt that Gideon failed to see himself that way, an angel of the Lord refers to Gideon as “a mighty man of valor.” (Judges 6: 12)

Through the angelic messenger, the Lord continues to reassure Gideon, but doubts remain.

It takes what would be the first sign from the Lord in verse 21, before Gideon recognizes the Lord’s hand and goes to work.

He overthrows the altar of Baal in the middle of the night and prepares to face the Midianites.

And yet, as many of us do, Gideon still doubts himself. That’s apparent when he approaches the Lord one more time in verse 36.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 1.22.22 PMOf course, Gideon wakes up the next morning to find the Lord had granted his request, wringing enough water out of the fleece to fill a bowl. (v. 38).

Still full of doubt, Gideon approaches the Lord yet another time. Fearing that the Lord might be angry with him, he asks for yet another fleece.

In verse 39:

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 1.21.11 PM


It’s important to remember that Gideon wasn’t asking for a sign. But like we all do when faced with seemingly impossible tasks, just needed extra reassurance from the Lord.

And now here I am, asking for what amounted to be a third priesthood blessing from the Lord in less than a few months.

I needed another fleece.

My hometeacher put his hands on my head, invoked his authority and sealed the anointing which had taken place.

In the blessing, he reaffirmed specific points made in the first two blessings. It was so close that it would seem that he had read a transcript of the first two blessings to make sure he got it right.

Of course, that wasn’t the case.

After he said amen, and I stood up, the scripture from the Doctrine and Covenants 6:28 came to my mind.

In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established.

I once again had full confidence in the Lord. I felt peace.

I had my fleece.

Why God gives us ‘spiritual training wheels’

training wheels

Image used under a Creative Commons license.

I catch on rather quickly — that is if you measure me by an archaeologist’s standards.

It took me forever to learn how to ride a bike. Come to think of it, I was the last kid to learn how to tie my shoes, color in the lines and drink my milk with a straw. It’s a wonder I ever graduated from kindergarten.

No matter how hard I tried while growing up on Jefferson Street, I had the coordination of Sid the Sloth. Whistling, tying my shoes and waking up without hurting myself were skills that would elude me for some time.

As if I had enough trouble, life came so much easier for Danny, who happened to live three houses down from me. Never a hair out of place, he learned how to ride his bike during lunch and was the designated ladies man in Mrs. Grahn’s first-grade class.

As for me, riding my orange bike with the sissy handlebars and banana seat required traction, training wheels and extra angels on duty. But I never gave up, even after the training wheels came off. Every day, I would wheel the bike over to my launch pad – the edge of the driveway next to our front lawn. After an initial push-off with my feet, I would pedal as fast as I could before falling over on the lawn a few feet away.

Over and over, I did that until one day something wonderful happened. Instead of falling over, I kept riding — past the front lawn, around the side of the house and to our lawn in the back.

It had taken me the equivalent of the paleozoic era, but I had learned to ride a bike.

As for my  “spiritual training wheels,” I’m going to need those for awhile longer.

The scrapes and cuts from learning to ride a bike were a cinch compared to qualifying for exaltation. I promised to be like the Savior in every way, to serve as he served, love as he loved and obey all his commandments.

Count me, Lord. I’m on your team. I won’t let you down.

That would last about a day until a movie with a high body count showed up on Netflix.

Public pronouncements didn’t help, even back when I served my mission.

“I’m getting off the fence,” I told other missionaries during a zone conference. No more mediocrity for me.

Afterwards, Elder Muzzy brought up his own fence.

“My fence has a gate that opens and shuts,” he said. “Makes it easier to go back and forth.”

To be certain, “spiritual training wheels” aren’t mentioned in the scriptures that I can see. But this scripture in the Doctrine and Covenants comes pretty close.

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 9.13.29 PM

In the process of conversion and change, the Lord won’t give up on us. President Hinckley offered similar encouragement during a dedication of the Hinckley Building in 2002 at BYU-Idaho.

“With all the capability that you have, you have to do your very best. And somehow if you do that, the Lord will open the way before you and the sun will shine.”

President Uchtdorf taught that we should start with a desire to believe until it becomes a habit.

The first step to walking in righteousness is simply to try. We must try to believe. Try to learn of God: read the scriptures; study the words of His latter-day prophets; choose to listen to the Father, and do the things He asks of us. Try and keep on trying until that which seems difficult becomes possible—and that which seems only possible becomes habit and a real part of you. (Dieter F. Uchtdorf, “The Love of God,” Oct. 2009)

As I sat down to write this, my sick wife was sitting on a chair in the living room typing one-handed on our laptop something she needed for school.

“I don’t suppose you could type this for me,” she asked.

“Not right yet,” I replied. “I need to get this written first.”

The irony of writing a blog post about being a better Christian while failing to serve my sick wife didn’t hit me at first.

About those training wheels, Lord. I’m going to need them for awhile longer.


Here’s the entire talk by Pres. Hinckley. It’s worth a listen again and example of why I love him so much.

The first 11 lessons from grandpa



One day, it will be my grandson and me. Just the two of us sharing a bucket of chicken somewhere.

He’ll wipe his fingers on his pants, just like I taught him. And it will be time for him to hear the first of my many lessons — words of wisdom that made me who I am today. And in the end, we will look at each other and make a solemn vow. Don’t tell your mother. Or grandma.


1. Of course, I only take one day at a time. The other days will just have to wait their turn.

2. People will tell you to be as quiet as a church mouse, but some church mice just aren’t that quiet. Especially the ones from Queens who’ve had a little too much to drink.

3. The sound you hear in Vegas is somebody getting rich. And it’s never you.

4. Actions speak louder than words. Especially the noise from last night’s chili.

5. Keep calm and make a meme about keeping calm.

6. Dance in the rain as if somebody is going to post it on Instagram.

7. When the time comes, I hope you marry your best friend — a much better choice than the girl with one eye.

8. You matter. Especially to bill collectors.

You do indeed matter to bill collectors.

9. Avoid Ebola stories on the news like the plague.

10. The bigger they are, the higher their cholesterol.

11. It’s OK to be as pure as the driven snow. As long as you don’t live on Three Mile Island.


There are more lessons, 3,786 to be exact, but we’re out of chicken. The rest will need to wait until you’re older and when grandma isn’t here.