Tuesday, December 17, 2013

A Christmas in Russia

Eighteen years ago this week I arrived in Siberia as a brand new missionary.  The comfort of the Missionary Training Center was nearly 6,000 miles away.  Those first days were hard, really hard.  At this time of year the sun rises in Novosibirsk around ten o'clock in the morning and goes down around five o'clock in the evening.  Temperatures ranged from -20 degrees Celsius during the day to something even colder during the night.  Newly arrived in a foreign place at the beginning of a two-year sojourn, I felt a bit overwhelmed.

As I struggled through each of those first days I wondered what it would take for all of it to feel normal.  With Christmas only days away homesickness started to settle in more deeply.  At some point we decided as a district to go Christmas caroling.  None of us were certain the last time, if ever, someone had sang Christmas carols in public in Novosibirsk.  With our Russian hymnals in hand four of us set out looking for places to sing.  Besides myself our group consisted of my companion from Helena, Montana, our district leader from Finland, and his companion who also was from Utah. 

Culturally, Russians tend to be very closed off in public situations.  The sudden appearance of four foreigners, singing what we're likely unfamiliar songs, had an interesting impact on those passing by us.  We sang for a time outside a store and then, in an effort to be a little warmer, we moved into one of the Metro hallways.  Some people, unsure how to react to us, simply put their head down and walked by, pretending that we didn't exist.  Others looked at us with obvious disapproval.  A small handful gave us a short smile.

There in the Metro, as we were singing "Silent Night" in Russian (Тихая ночь, дивная ночь), I looked around at my fellow missionaries.  Despite the unfamiliar surroundings and despite the unwelcoming reactions of those passing by, I saw on their faces a sense of peace and love.  The same feelings came over me.  I felt my frozen cheeks surrounded by a large, wool scarf and covered by a fur shapka, break out into a smile of joy.

That same week we attended the branch Christmas party.  We were joined by new Saints in celebrating the birth of our Savior.  Together we sang the beautiful Christmas carols in a new language, a language that I would come to love.  After two weeks of eating unfamiliar foods I was rewarded with a meal consisting of a small beef steak and mashed potatoes.  Outside of the companionship of fellow believers, I don't think the Lord could have given me a better gift than that meal. 

Celebrating Christmas that year, in 1994, I received the assurance from the Lord that I was doing his work in the right place.  A small gathering of Saints showed me the promises the Lord had in store for those in Novosibirsk.  My perception changed from wondering if I could survive two years in Siberia to that of considering the possibilities of what I could do, experience, give, and learn during that time.  I thank the Lord for the tender mercies offered me in that season as the celebration of His Son's birth brought me the comfort I so desperately needed.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A Spiritual Feast in the High Desert

The last month or so has been eventful for our family.  My father returned from his deployment to the Middle East.  I was called to serve as bishop of the Whitney Ranch Ward.  All of my side of the family came out for our third running of the Las Vegas Ragnar.  We capped the visit off with an early Thanksgiving dinner put on by my mother.  Emmalee went to a marching band competition in California.  Wrestling season started for Elijah and he already has his first tournament under his belt.  Isaiah finally convinced his mother to let him start wrestling.  Gracee played in her first few lacrosse games.  She even scored a goal in one game.  Clara started walking.  Elizabeth is just busy all of the time.

In the midst of all the exciting events I managed to come down with a cold last weekend.  The timing wasn't great since I had to take a road trip to San Bernardino on Wednesday and Thursday.  As my departure time on Wednesday evening approached, I felt less and less happy about the prospect of making that drive out and back with the cold and my lack of sleep.  The trip was to provide some initial services to some very large clients for work making the trip difficult to cancel.  At the last minute, thinking of the drive through the high desert, I grabbed a set of CDs from the October 2002 General Conference.  What started out looking as a very depressing trip became a spiritual and educational trip.

Below are the links to a few of the talks with some excerpts that I particularly enjoyed:

"Rise to Your Call," Elder Henry B. Eyring
"The person who called you did not issue the call simply because he learned by interviewing you that you were worthy and willing to serve.  He prayed to know the Lord’s will for you.  It was prayer and revelation to those authorized of the Lord, which brought you here.  Your call is an example of a source of power unique to the Lord’s Church.  Men and women are called of God by prophecy and by the laying on of hands by those God has authorized.

"You are called to represent the Savior.  Your voice to testify becomes the same as His voice, your hands to lift the same as His hands.  His work is to bless His Father’s spirit children with the opportunity to choose eternal life.  So, your calling is to bless lives.  That will be true even in the most ordinary tasks you are assigned and in moments when you might be doing something not apparently connected to your call.  Just the way you smile or the way you offer to help someone can build their faith.  And should you forget who you are, just the way you speak and the way you behave can destroy faith.

"Your call has eternal consequences for others and for you.  In the world to come, thousands may call your name blessed, even more than the people you serve here.  They will be the ancestors and the descendants of those who chose eternal life because of something you said or did, or even what you were.  If someone rejects the Savior’s invitation because you did not do all you could have done, their sorrow will be yours.  You see, there are no small callings to represent the Lord.  Your call carries grave responsibility.  But you need not fear, because with your call come great promises."

"There will be times when you will feel overwhelmed.  One of the ways you will be attacked is with the feeling that you are inadequate.  Well, you are inadequate to answer a call to represent God with only your own powers.  But you have access to more than your natural capacities, and  you do not work alone.

"The Lord will magnify what you say and what you do in the eyes of the people you serve.  He will send the Holy Ghost to manifest to them that what you spoke was true.  What you say and do will carry hope and give direction to people far beyond your natural abilities and your own understanding.  That miracle has been a mark of the Lord’s Church in every dispensation."

 "That They May Be One in Us," Elder D. Todd Christofferson
"Surely we will not be one with God and Christ until we make Their will and interest our greatest desire.  Such submissiveness is not reached in a day, but through the Holy Spirit, the Lord will tutor us if we are willing until, in process of time, it may accurately be said that He is in us as the Father is in Him.  At times I tremble to consider what may be required, but I know that it is only in this perfect union that a fullness of joy can be found.  I am grateful beyond expression that I am invited to be one with those holy beings I revere and worship as my Heavenly Father and Redeemer."

"Encircled in the Arms of His Love," Elder Neal A. Maxwell
"In the churn of crises and the sinister swirl of global events, true disciples will maintain faith in a revealing, loving God and in His plan for redeeming His children, which plan is the why of all that God does!  Furthermore, God’s character, as revealed to us, tells us that He has the cosmic capacity to ensure that He really is ‘able’ to do His immense work."

"The restored gospel is buoyant, wide, and deep—beyond our comprehension.  It edifies whether concerning divine design in the universe or stressing the importance of personal chastity and fidelity.  Only meek disciples can safely handle such a bold theology."

"How can we know that God is aware of us and loves us?  He tells us by the scriptures—likewise, by our honestly counting the blessings and bestowals of His grace in our lives.  Most of all, He tells us by the still, small voice of the Spirit!"

“…brothers and sisters, what keeps us from knowing and loving Him more?  Our reluctance to give away all our sins—thinking, instead, a down payment will do.  Likewise, our reluctance to let our wills be swallowed up in His will—thinking, instead, that merely acknowledging His will is sufficient!”

A normally long and boring trip through the desert became a spiritual feast.  

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Reality of Obamacare: A Way Forward

For all my Republican friends who are feeling disappointed at the failed attempt to defund or modify Obamacare, it's time to accept a few facts and to embrace a new strategy.

First, accept the fact that the Democrats won elections when they mattered.  Elections have consequences.

Second, accept the fact that there was nothing we could do realistically to make any meaningful change to the law during this last fiasco. 

Third, Obamacare is likely here to stay in one form or another.

Fourth, Obamacare does not belong to you.  It belongs completely to the Democrats.  They crafted and they passed it without any bipartisan support.  Given a second chance, most recently, to revisit the structure and content of Obamacare, the Democrats again refused to work with the Republicans.

Now here's the new strategy in two parts.

First, let the Democrats implement Obamacare as they wish.  Wash your hands and make it clear that Obamacare, fail or succeed belongs to the Democrats.  Make this a public relations campaign.  Scream it from the rooftops.  Based on the initial roll out of the program and the impact of the individual mandate on premiums, it's not likely to get better.

See what Jon Stewart of The Daily Show has to say about the roll out of the website:


Again, Obamacare is going to happen, it is happening.  As a nation we are going to experience the consequences.  Put the responsibility for the consequences where they belong...with the party that passed it on their own and refused to negotiate any changes.  It is time for Republicans to walk away from it...for now.

Second, after the effects of the law become obvious the Democrats will be forced to walk back their support of the law and the Republicans may win control of both houses of the Congress.  Only then will it be possible for significant changes in the law to be made.

As all of this plays out, the Republican party needs to rediscover its home turf and learn to work together again.  During the Bush Administration the Republicans lost their way, giving in to fiscal recklessness as they abandoned important principles in favor of remaining in power.  Today the party is torn apart by different factions, both of which are to blame for the current situation.  The challenge to the strategy outlined above will be to get unrealistic radicals to get on board.  While I'm not certain of their motives, Senators Cruz and Lee were not honest in their claims that Obamacare could be defunded.  At the same time, the leadership of the Republican party and the moderate faction have failed miserably at providing any type of effective leadership.  As far as I can tell, they have not articulated any clear goals and have been completely reactionary in their approach to the largest challenges facing our country.

Realism is the order of the day.  Do the Republicans have the common sense to move forward effectively?

Monday, September 9, 2013

Profile of a Ragnarian: Jarad Van Wagoner

Over the past year I've watched as a friend from my hometown has achieved a degree of fame as a competitive participant in Obstacle Course Racing and trail marathon circuits.  Frankly, his accomplishments are impressive, but like my other friend Brett always says: "Running skinny is easy.  It's like golfing from the fairway."

After my last few races I've waited at the finish line for someone to come interview me in an attempt to ascertain the secret to my success.  Alas, nobody from Runners' World has been there to record my compelling story and background.  So, in order to meet the demands of my reading public, I'm going to interview myself and provide you with a very informational profile.

Name: Jarad Van Wagoner
Age: 37 (for at least two more weeks)
High School Mascot: Eagle
Favorite Running Aid: Body Glide

Let's get to the important issues first.  Do you tend to have any digestive issues when you run?

Please define digestive issues.

You know, do you have any problems with diarrhea or anything like that when you run races, especially the relays?
Well that seems kind of personal, but, yeah on occasion I've had to pick up the pace to make it to the next set of outhouses or Honey Buckets.  It's not a regular problem though, at least not enough to earn a nickname like Deucer.  I have, however, ran relays with people who define the entire experience around their digestive life. 

What do you do to correct or control your digestive issues?
First of all, I relax.  After having ran several races I know what to expect which is that while I may not be very fast, I will finish.  Second, I make sure that I consume enough calories.  The biggest mistake I've made during a relay is to choose sleep over a meal.  I can run on very little sleep, but my bowels reject the concept of running without sufficient nutrition.  You must avoid my sister's experience as described in these previous blog: Shot Blocks and Miracles on Leg 27.

Once your bowels put you into panic mode on a race, I've found that calm meditation generally is the best remedy. 

Who is your favorite training partner for the relays?
Usually I like to train with my wife, especially when she's out of shape because it makes me feel fast.  The downside is that she has longer legs than me, so once she gets in good physical condition she starts to run faster than me.  Last time she finally slowed down when she got pregnant.

Which of your Ragnar teammates do you look up to most?
That would be my friend Brett.  He's pretty tall.  I also look up to my brother-in-law Nathan Feltch because he's pretty tall as well.  I do feel that Nate became a little shorter, however, after I watched him trip and roll through a patch of sage brush along a lonely stretch of highway outside of Las Vegas one night in 2011.  Unfortunately he also fell again at the end of that run, right after he handed off the slap bracelet at the exchange.  He fell stepping off of the curb, scraping up his already bloodied legs even more and spraining his ankle.  Watching someone put a maxi pad on his knee to stem the bleeding seems to have shortened him even further.  But, yeah, I still look up to Nate and to Brett.

Describe one or two of of your favorite Ragnar legs you've ran.
Usually the night runs are my favorite.  There's something relaxing and liberating about running at night.  On my second Wasatch Back I ran from Coalville to Wanship early in the morning.  The trail runs a short distance from the freeway and adjacent to pastures and fields, coming close to the river once or twice.  I love the feeling of isolation when I run at night.  During that run I only came across a few other runners and the tall brush added to the effect of being alone.  Even with the smell of skunks in the air, it was an amazing run.  I ran into the next exchange just as the sun was coming up. 

My next favorite run was on the Ragnar Trail Experiment at the Zion Ponderosa Ranch.  Prior to my run it had rained all day and it was still raining at 11pm as I began my run on the Green Trail.  The mud was over the top of my shoes as I started out from the exchange.  With the rain falling all around, the light from my headlamp wasn't very effective at illuminating anything more than three or four feet in front of me.  Mud, hills, and rain tortured me throughout the entire run making it a challenge to move forward and stay on my feet.  I fell on my hands an knees more than once trying to come back up out of the ravine.  By the end, I was completely exhausted and thrilled at what I had just done.  Check out the story here: Experimental Trail Running

Describe one or two of your worst Ragnar legs.
Well, on the Ragnar Trail Experiment at Zion Ponderosa Ranch, it rained the entire time during one of my trail runs.

Heat usually makes the runs challenging in a way that I do not enjoy.  Both times I've ran in SoCal, my first leg has been in 100 plus degree heat.  I really do not enjoy running in the heat.

Tell us about the vans on a Ragnar.  What makes the interior environment so enjoyable?
Some would try to convince you that it's the camaraderie that makes it so enjoyable.  I don't think that's it.  I believe that it is the intoxicating odor of sweat from multiple bodies that makes it so enjoyable.  Once you learn to identify all of your van mates by their own unique odor, you truly bond.  My friend Brett always puts all of his running clothes in a plastic bag.  Brett sweats a lot so the bag is usually pretty full of liquid and weighs 10-12 pounds. 

Snoring is another big bonus.  You get to find out who snores loudly and their own special pattern.  The best is when you have two people snoring at the same time in the van, with their snores offsetting one another so that there is no quiet time.  It gets even better when you add someone to that mix who keeps complaining out loud so that nobody else can get to sleep.

Do team members ever become irritable or grumpy from the exhaustion and bad digestive issues?
No, but I've noticed that as my team members get more exhausted they tend to think less clearly and then they say and do very stupid and irritable things.

What is your fantasy in terms of your racing career?
First, I would like to be able to look really good running in just shorts with no shirt.  The second, and perhaps more likely, is that someone will one day pay me to run races to include all of the Ragnar Relays.

What Ragnar events are at the top of your bucket list (ones you haven't run yet)?
- Ragnar Trail Tahoe
- Northwest Passage
- Colorado (after a lot of training)

What Ragnar Events Have You Run?
- SoCal 2011
- Wasatch Back 2011
- Las Vegas 2011
- SoCal 2012
- Wasatch Back 2012
- Ragnar Trail Experiment 2012
- Las Vegas 2012
- Ragnar Trail Zion 2013
- Wasatch Back 2013
- Las Vegas 2013
- Del Sol 2014
- Ragnar Trail Zion 2014
- Wasatch Back 2014 (Registered)

What other amazing events have you run?
- Ogden Marathon 2010
- Provo Canyon Half Marathon 2010
- American Discover Trail Marathon 2010
- Hurrican Jem Trail Half Marathon 2010
- Red Mountain 30K 2011
- Ogden Marathon 2011
- Ogden Marathon 2012
- Ogden Marathon 2013 
- Ogden Marathon 2014 (Registered, will probably die)

Friday, August 30, 2013

Confessions of a Sewer Rat

After a recent blog post about previous jobs, I thought I should share some stories about one of my favorites from high school.  Enjoy.


At some point when I was in high school my father, who was a deputy sheriff at the time in our small town, decided to open a sewer cleaning business.  He purchased a nice high pressure water snake , an old fashioned sewer snake, and a very cool small, red pickup truck...a red truck with a canopy.  Admittedly I was excited when he first been discussing the idea of opening our own family business.  It sounded adventurous and profitable.

My optimism quickly dissipated as I helped on our first job in Roosevelt.  Of course, it should have been obvious that working with the transportation system of human biological waste wouldn't be the most desirable job in the world.  Despite my sudden decline in interest, it wasn't long before I was trained and doing jobs on my own.

While the job wasn't the most pleasant, it did pay well and made for some great stories.

Gear and Rules
There are three key pieces of personal protective gear to being a safe and effective sewer line cleaning technician.  First, you must have a proper pair of gloves.  Heavy duty, rubber coated gloves are necessary.  Sometimes you can get away with the coated cloth gloves that go to the wrist.  On most jobs, however, I preferred the solid rubber gloves that went almost to my elbows.  It's best not to allow the line from the snake touch your skin or clothes directly if you can help it.  Second, you need eye protection.  Because I wore glasses at the time, I just used those instead of wearing uncomfortable goggles.  Unfortunately they served their purpose more than once and were spattered with waste.  Finally, you need a good source of clean rags to clean the snakes off as you pulled them out.

Now for a couple of rules.  Keep your mouth shut when pulling a snake out of a line.  Under no circumstances do you want someone's waste landing in your mouth.  It would leave a permanent psychological scar and possibly lingering health issues.  Never turn on the pressure cleaner (jetter) until the head and line are safely in the sewage line.  Never pull the head of the jetter out of the line with the pump running.  

It's also important to realize that a sense of smell can be a serious curse.

Female Hygiene
During an early job I was sent to a neighbors house to clean out a line.  Luckily I had access to clean out valve outside.  It's always easier to do the jobs from outside a home as access is easier and you don't have to be as careful about making messes.  After an initial check of the line it became clear that there was a solid block in the line that required more than the pressure cleaner.  Using the mechanical snake with a drill attachment I fed the in line in.  Once I knew the end of the snake had grabbed something I pulled it out to investigate the obstacle at hand.  As the line came out I saw that what appeared to be large engorged cotton balls were wedged into the end of the snake.  Reaching down I pulled the first one off and stared at it trying to figure out what I had.  Pulling it apart to try to solve the mystery, I suddenly realized i was holding a used tampon in my hand.

Suddenly I found myself very angry with three people.  First, I was angry with my dad for getting us into this business.  Because of his entrepreneurial spirit his 17 year old son was sitting there holding a strange woman's used tampon.  Second, I was angry with the woman.  It seemed obvious that you shouldn't flush tampons down the toilet.  Third, I was angry with myself for not being somewhere else at that moment.  For instance, the county jail suddenly seemed a lot more inviting.

Unfortunately, the lady of the house was standing next to me, anxious to have her plumbing back in order.  As I kneel there in the field with my morbid discovery she leaned over my shoulder and asked, "What is it?"

Apparently the swell factor was enough to distort the item beyond identification for her, or she didn't want to accept what it was.  I looked up with her, my face red and shaking with anger, embarrassment and abject horror.  Whispering between clenched teeth I forced myself to say, "A tampon.  It's a lot of tampons.  You can't flush tampons down the toilet."  Suddenly realizing what kind of dialogue she was having with a young man, she muttered a little shriek and ran to her house.

In short order I was able to pull out the remainder of the used feminine hygiene products from the sewer line.  Eventually, and sadly, I progressed to the point where pulling used tampons and other items from sewer lines was no big deal.  The first time, however, was quite the ride.

A Skunk Would Be Better
One of my favorite experiences surprisingly didn't happen to me directly.  My dad and I were on a job together trying to clear out a blockage on single wide trailer.  Anytime you need to go into a crawl space it's always beneficial to have someone on the outside to turn the pressure cleaner on and off.  Upon arrival at the job I set the machine up while my dad put on his overalls and crawled under the trailer.

We knew it would be messy because their was raw sewage backed up into the bathtub.  Whatever clean out we opened, sewage was going to spill under the trailer.  The best thing to do in these situations is find a way to release the dirty water into a spot away from where you will have to lay.  Unfortunately this job started out badly.  As my dad was trying to move one of the sewer lines the connection under the bathtub came loose and created a veritable shower of sewage.  This of course put my dad into a poor demeanor.

It's important to understand that this jetter, or pressure cleaner, shoots water out at an extremely high pressure.  The heads are designed to shoot one stream straight ahead and multiple streams to the side and rear.  This design allows the high pressure water to cut through the blockage, propel the line forward, and clean the sides of the line.

Once he had the sewage pipe open he fed the end of the jetter in and pushed it around the first corner.  With the line loaded he asked me to flip it on.   I clicked it on and the pump started to hum, shooting water out at a crisp 4500 psi.  Within less than a minute the lady in the house opened her back door and yelled at me, "I think your dad wants you to turn the machine off?"

"Why?  I haven't heard him say anything."

She yells back, "Well, he's pounding like hell on my floor."

I turned it off as quickly as I could and yelled at my dad to see what he needed.  I didn't get a reply so I yelled again.  Soon I realized from the sound that he was crawling out from under the trailer.  Confused I leaned over by the entrance to see what he was doing when suddenly I saw my dad's face burst into the light with his eyes squished shut as tightly as he could, his lips pressed closed, and sewer water dripping down his face.  After a short second of shock and deep, deep amusement I grabbed a towel and pressed it into his hand so he could wipe his face.

With his face clean enough to venture opening his eyes, he looked at me accusingly and asked with more than a twinge of anger, "Why didn't you shut it off when I started pounding?"

"I didn't hear you pounding.  I was standing next the pump and didn't hear you.  What happened?"

In angry voice he explained how the head of the pressure line turned back on itself instead of going around the corner.  As soon as I turned it on it sprayed sewer water directly into his face and continued to spray all over him while he waited for me to turn it off.  With raw sewage dripping down his face he couldn't open his mouth to yell at me.

I'm not one to use foul language, but I have to say that was the only time I ever saw my dad totally #$#%faced.

Frosty and Cassanova
Cleaning frozen lines during the winter is a very uncomfortable proposition.  I once spent six hours in sub zero temperature trying unsuccessfully to clear a frozen line on a farm in Neola.  It took me hours to warm up, but it wasn't the worst.  One night in Duchesne I was called out to clear a frozen line on a trailer.  Knowing that I would be working under the trailer I called my friend Ryon to help run the pump on the jetter for me.  The temperature outside was well below freezing, but it wasn't nearly as cold right under the trailer.  In an attempt to break through the frozen line as quickly as possible we hooked the jetter up to the hot water heater.  Usually this will help get through a large portion of the frozen line quickly.

With everything hooked up and the line in the pipe, Ryon flipped the switch.  One drawback is that the jetter pushes all the water back into the work space while you work through the blockage.  Within a few minutes I was laying in a pool of melted sewer water and warm water from the water heater.  Despite the content of the water I unashamedly enjoyed the fact that at least it was warm...in the beginning. 

Ryon checked in with me once or twice the first little while.  I don't remember how long it took to finally free the block but by the time it broke through the water coming out of the jetter was cold.  While the temperature under trailer was higher than it was outside, laying in the now cold water had lowered my body temperature and soaked my heavy overalls through completely.  With the job wrapped up I yelled for Ryon to turn the pump off but received no response.  Grabbing my gear I crawled outside and couldn't find him anywhere.  I turned the pump off and reeled in the hose.  By the time the hose was reeled in I was was bitterly cold and could feel my overalls starting to freeze on the outside. 

In freezing temperatures, all the water in the pump and line of the jetter must be cleared immediately and replaced with anti-freeze.  Failure to do so can crack the pump or split the lines.  With frozen hands and body, I went through the process as quickly as I could wondering to where my help had wondered off.  Just as I was loading the jetter back into the truck, shaking uncontrollably, Ryon and the client, a beautiful lady who had graduated from high school just a few years ahead of us, walked out of the trailer. 

Ryon said, "Oh, are you finished.  Sorry, she invited me in for a cup of hot cocoa so I could warm up."

I don't remember what I said but it wasn't very nice and he laughed at me in response.  The drive home was extremely painful as was the shower I took.  In the shower I had to leave the water on cold for twenty or so minutes before I could begin to turn the temperature up.  As stood there shaking, thinking I would never be warm again, I kept picturing Ryon sitting across from the pretty lady enjoying a hot cup of cocoa.

A Slap in the Face
My final, and perhaps best story, once again involved Ryon.  I was called to go clear some blocked lines up at the Tabby Mountain Resort outside of Tabiona.  Ryon agreed to go with me to help.  As we arrived we found several families, some with cute girls our age, vacationing there from the city; all of them were gathered around the clean out line to watch us fix their sewage issue.  Working with an audience on this kind of project, especially when the audience is angry and impatiently waiting for toilets and showers to work correctly again.  Nobody wants to go on vacation and find raw sewage in their bathroom. 

With everyone looking on I learned from the maintenance guy that every cabin at the resort was blocked up.  Since their system all fed into a septic tank, I thought it wise to make sure the tank wasn't full with solid sewage going down the drain line.  If that was the case, then they would need to have the septic tank pumped and the drain line cleaned or replaced.  After wrestling off the concrete lid of the septic tank, I took my hat off and grabbed a flashlight and carefully peered into the edges of the tank looking for the drain line.  I was hoping to find a a clear line which would confirm that I could likely fix the problem quickly.

Honestly to this day I don't remember the condition of the drain line or whether or not we fixed the problem all because of what happened while and after I looked into the tank.  Let me set the scene one more time.  Thirty to forty people are sitting on the little hillside watching us, waiting for the problem to be fixed.  It was late summer and I hadn't cut my hair in about six weeks.  I mention this because as I sat up to tell Ryon what I had seen, something wet and slimy slapped me in the forehead and over my eye, dripping down my cheek.  Most of the people watching screamed, Ryon's eyes got huge.  It took a few seconds but then I realized that my hair had been dipped into the solid sewage at the top of the septic tank as I twirled it around looking for the drain line.  As I sat up the crap soaked swirly landed squarely on my face.

Within thirty seconds most of my audience had dispersed, running from the guy with poop dripping down his face.  Ryon took longer than me to recover but eventually he handed me a rag to wipe the sewage off of my face. 

Following the incident I'm sure we finished the job or referred it to someone to handle the septic tank.  All I remember is Ryon laughing at me during the entire drive back to Duchesne.

Since those days, whenever I think my current job is kind of crappy, I just remind myself that it's not even close.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

GVS 2013 Trek: Observing and Serving in the Kaibab

This summer the youth of the Green Valley Stake of Henderson, Nevada, along with their mas, pas, and some other brave stake leaders, pulled loaded handcarts for several miles in the Kaibab National Forest in northern Arizona.  For two and a half days they walked through the dust and heat, grateful for the tall pines providing shade along the roads and trails.  Each meal and drink of water was savored and appreciated.  Sleep was well earned.  Tired youth rallied at the end of the second day to dance late into the night and eat a multitude of Dutch oven cobblers.  Cuts were bandaged, blisters treated, and other ailments addressed.  Songs were sung and testimonies shared.  Youth and adults who walked the trail together left for home knowing they had accomplished something significant.

Four years ago my wife and I went on the Colorado Springs East Stake Youth Trek to Wyoming as a ma and pa.  Experiencing the program as a “trekker” with the youth was an amazing experience.  We were able to help them push and pull the handcart, eat what they ate, walk through Martin’s Cove and pull the cart through the Sweetwater River.  Of course our experience didn’t come close to what those in the Willie and Martin Handcart Companies experienced, but it did give us a glimpse.  Each of us came away with a deeper appreciation of what they did and a testimony of the Restored Gospel.

This time I had a different role that provided me much different perspective.  Instead of trekking with the youth, I was in a support role responsible for the movement of equipment to include set up and take down for each campsite.  Initially part of me was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t be interacting with the youth directly, especially since my oldest daughter was trekking for her first time.  Despite the fact that I wouldn’t be at the “center” of the action this time, I was excited to be there helping.

Beginning with the planning process and throughout the actual trek, I experienced and observed events and people in such a way that my testimony was strengthened and my understanding increased. 

Staffing the Trek

As the high councilor assigned to work with the Young Women, I was involved with the planning and organization process from the beginning.  I had the privilege of extending calls to several individuals to assist with the execution of the trek.  Some of the calls were for positions that demanded substantial amounts of time and work, such as: the head ma and pa who were responsible for training all of the other mas and pas and assisting the trek co-chairmen; the chairmen of the food committee with all of their assistants; the videographer; and others.  In almost every case the calls were accepted not only with willingness but also with a high degree of excitement.  On more than one occasion when issuing a call I spent a good deal of time with the individual or individuals discussing their plans and ideas for the trek in depth.

These wonderful brothers and sisters followed the Lord’s counsel found in Doctrine & Covenants 58: 27:

“Verily I say, men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause, and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness.”

Preparing the Next Generation

Last fall a young man and a young woman from each ward in the stake were called to serve on the stake youth committee.  Their responsibility was to plan and execute the stake trek with guidance and training from the adult leadership.  From the earliest meeting they shared their ideas and desires for the trek.  Each was assigned to a committee with significant responsibility for the planning of specific parts of the trek.  As the months came and went a core group of the youth attended and contributed, learning to plan and follow up.  Some of the youth were already experienced leaders and they stepped up quickly to make things happen.  Others were content to hang in the background a bit more, providing a quieter type of help.  The opening morning of the trek I met most of the members of the stake youth committee at the stake center at four in the morning so we could get to the location ahead of everyone.  I drove a van with thirteen of these wonderful young people and then watched them throughout the trek as they led and served others.  The church will be in good hands when their time comes, which is very soon.

Blessings: Seen and Unseen

During my first trek experience I was aware that there was a group of largely unseen people who were setting things up, putting things in place, and generally making things happen.  While I was aware they were there and was grateful for what they had done, I didn’t spend much time thinking about the degree of effort or time that went into their work.  Looking back at many of the activities in which I participated as a youth, I don’t think I spent enough time thinking about all the work that went into planning and executing those activities.  Now, I served on Bishop Youth Councils and Stake Youth Committees and was aware of what went on but I never considered that the adult leaders didn’t have to do what they were doing nor did I consider that what they did might be difficult or much of a sacrifice.  A few times I may have even been ungrateful and brazen enough to criticize their efforts for not meeting my expectations.

As part of the support staff for this trek I helped to set up and stage tents, dishwashing stations, tables, and food buckets.  I helped to take down tents, dishwashing stations, and tables.  Once or twice I even had the opportunity to give people a ride to and from different locations on an ATV.  The work wasn’t difficult but the benefits to those who were trekking were real.  Each task we completed was one less that they had to do at the beginning or end of a long day.  Our efforts allowed them to focus on their designated activity and other important responsibilities like cooking dinner, family meetings, and sleep.

On the end of the second day of the trek, with three miles to go, I and another member of the support staff, decided to hike the last three miles with the trekkers to give help where and when we could.  As the companies went down one steep hill and up another I jumped in and helped the families who were struggling.  Coming down the long, steep hill I grabbed onto a few handcarts and slowed them down.  On the way up the next steep hill I got behind one handcart and pushed a little, then walked back down and pushed a little on another.  Quickly I realized that I wasn’t doing much.  My thoughts went back to the accounts of the handcart pioneers who felt unseen hands pushing their handcarts up Rocky Ridge or other difficult places when they were worn and tired.  I decided that I wanted to make a noticeable difference for the rest of the handcarts I helped.  It was at the end of a long, hot day for them and they were tired.  As the next one came by I put my hands on the back and pushed hard, lightening their load and hastening them up the hill.  I returned down the hill and did it again and then again and again.  My contribution was small but it made me feel good to help at a point in their day when it likely was appreciated.

God’s blessings are mysterious.  Every day each of us is blessed through miracles and by the quiet efforts and sacrifices, large and small, of others.  Some of these blessings occur on such a regular basis that we fail to notice them, as we should.   Often we even fail to recognize that we are in need of the blessings we are receiving because the needs are met so quietly and subtly.  At times we are those blessing the lives of others, knowingly and perhaps more frequently unknowingly.

Other blessings come in the very moment of obvious need and after heartfelt prayer and pleading.  The blessings and answers to our prayers, in these cases, are obvious and miraculous.  These are the blessings that we are quick to remember.  These are those about which we speak and testify.

Throughout the trek I saw blessings given and received in both ways, quietly and in the moments of great need.  Our God blesses us constantly and we can bless others constantly for him through our actions.  It’s easier I believe for us to be grateful for and aware of those obvious blessings that we receive or give.  The subtle, less obvious, blessings in my opinion are those that can truly show the beauty of God’s work and the majesty of his love.  How often are we blessed through a string of seemingly unconnected events and actions?  How often does someone quietly serving bless us?  How often does someone living righteously and not even knowing that they are blessing others bless us?  How often do the actions of an indifferent, perhaps non-righteous, person bless our lives? 

I believe that most of our blessings from God are of the subtle variety.  I think the intent is to require us to ponder the course of our lives while seeking out those blessings.  As we do this our love for God will grow.  I think God keeps his own counsel relative the granting of the bulk of his blessings:

Matthew 6:3-4:
“But when thou doest alms, let not they left hand know what thy right hand doeth: That thy alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.”

Quiet and unrequested blessings, when noticed, let us know that our Father in Heaven isn’t just aware of us, but that he knows us and knows our needs.  Such blessings are evidence of his deep and abiding love and care for each one of us.    Gratitude for these blessings, quietly given, will lead us to love our God more fully and to love our fellow man more fully.  I think we must also look for those opportunities to quietly bless the lives of others and be aware of opportunities to do God’s work.  As we do so our humility should increase, as our sense of entitlement should decrease.   We learn to serve as our Savior, Jesus Christ, served.

The Blessing of Observing

While I didn’t participate in the daily trek and associated activities, I was able, with my compatriots, to position us to observe the trekkers at significant times.  My daughter was in the first family in the first company.  After finishing the set up of the first campsite, we waited for the them to arrive.  It was rewarding to watch her come up the hill with her family, a smile on her face and a sense of accomplishment in her words.  I was there to watch her help pull the first handcart up the women’s pull.  And, I was there to watch her pull the first handcart to the end point.  I was able to watch the trekkers as they had fun, suffered, and recovered.  I was able to watch them enjoy a break or a meal, to see them excited for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. 

I had a few minutes in the evenings to walk around as they prepared and ate their dinners.  I watched as they left their families for a few minutes to find friends and to catch up on the events of the day.  I watched as some fell by the wayside to injury or sickness.  I watched as the sick and injured were attended to by others.  In between my small acts of service, I was able to watch others serve.  I watched the youth and adults get frustrated with the challenge in front of them and their weakness in facing it.  I watched them push through to do what needed to be done despite their frustration.  I listened as they sang, told stories, and shared testimonies.  I watched and listened as their stake president addressed them while they sat on the north rim of the Grand Canyon.  I watched as they felt the spirit teach and strengthen them.  I feel as though I watched the spirit in action on a consistent basis.

Observing and quietly serving during this trek provided me with a unique perspective and taught me new and old lessons about our Heavenly Father, our Savior, and us.  I think of all those who made the work and sacrifices of the pioneers possible.  Those that helped prepare them to make the crossing, those that came to their rescue, and those who stood ready to welcome them upon their arrival.  I think of those unseen hands who helped them along the way, providing help, strength, and comfort.  I picture a loving Heavenly Father and Savior experiencing our joys and sorrows with us along our path as they help us, step by step, becomes more like them.

While the main purpose of this trek was to provide the youth with a faith promoting and testimony strengthening experience, it provided me with a wonderful learning experience, one that I will remember.

- Jarad Van Wagoner
Postscript: The Law of Consecration in Action

The trek was an incredible event because of the willingness of so many to sacrifice and serve.  They gave of their time, their talents, and in many cases their own money.  The youth of this stake were blessed with:

-       A stake presidency that loves them and wants them to succeed.  The stake presidency was involved in the planning process from the earliest stages.  They helped to make important decisions regarding scope, funding, purpose, and participation.  Our stake president and one of his counselors attended the trek and hiked with the youth.  

-       Trek co-chairmen, a wonderful and vibrant married couple in the stake, who threw themselves into the project heart and soul.  They spent hours researching the best options for the trek.  At the first planning meeting they arrived with suggestions for multiple locations and methods for running the trek.  Prior to the trek they traveled to the trek site, which is over three hours away, multiple times.  The delegated.  They planned.  They organized.  They followed up.  They advised.  They served.  They went to the trek site the day before everyone else to set up and make sure everything was ready to go.  They were with the trekkers all along the path.  They were the last to leave the trek site once it was over.  Their tireless efforts taught me the meaning of the word stewardship.

-       Head Ma and Pa.  This couple served in multiple roles:  as assistants to the trek chairmen, trainers for the thirty sets of mas and pas, motivational speakers, cheerleaders, sign painters, etc.  They looked after the welfare of the trekkers, youth and adults alike.  They also went up a day early to help set up and were among the last to leave.

-       Mas and Pas.  These wonderful adults responded to the call to spend time in the wilderness with these youth, to serve as mentors.  They attended meetings and trainings to prepare for the trek.  They spent time getting to know the youth in their families months before the trek began.  They participated in training hikes.  Throughout the trek they encouraged, showed, and taught the youth in their families.  Many of these wonderful individuals suffered as much or more than many of the youth and yet they continued through to the end.  

-       Company Captains.  Five wonderful priesthood holders, some of them bishops, were responsible for the welfare of six handcart families.  These men participated in much of the pre-trek training and then trekked along with their families, helping and encouraging wherever and whenever they could.  One of the bishops had a knee surgery a couple of months before the trek.  Despite his discomfort, he participated in all three pre-trek preparation hikes.  The first day he pushed himself through each painful mile.  I was leaving the first campsite in an ATV as he was leading his company up the hill the last couple of hundred yards.  His face was set and determined.  I was proud to see him doing something so difficult.  Later I learned that he was knocked off the side of a cattle guard as he entered camp by one of the handcarts from his company that was running into the campsite.  Despite his bangs and bruises he was back up the next day ready to serve his company.

-       Stake Young Women and Young Men Presidencies.  These wonderful people were in charge of equipment, logistics, transportation of people and equipment, spiritual events, fun events, and so much more.  They helped directly with the trekkers.  They helped behind the scenes.  Their efforts provided many of the necessities such as port-a-potties, drinking water, changing tents, dishwashing stations, lanterns, and transportation for the tired and injured.  Along the trail they taught lessons through activities and spiritual messages.

-       Cooks.  The cooks spent hours preparing and planning the meals for the trek.  They spent hours purchasing food and stocking the refrigeration truck.  They spent hours preparing meal buckets for each family for each meal.  Then they spent additional time and effort preparing meals for the stake leaders and support staff.  They provided a wonderful dessert one night of around 20 different cobblers to the trekkers.  The cooks kept everyone fueled and ready to move forward.

-       Music and Dance Committee.  This wonderful family wrote an original song or two for the trek.  They taught the youth how to do the Virginia Reel and other folk dances before we even left home.  Throughout the program they provided music and multiple locations along the trail and they put on an amazing music and dance festival the second evening.  They truly shared their talents to make others happy.

-       Medical Personnel.  An individual was called to follow the trekkers along the trail and provide medical assistance wherever needed.  He patched up cuts, blisters, and scrapes.  He treated dehydration, asthma attacks, joint injuries, and whatever else came up.  Along the way he was helped by mas who are nurses and by stake leaders who are doctors.

-       Photographers and videographer.  Three individuals recorded the experience for the youth in pictures and video to give them something to help remember the experience.  They were up early and traveling all over the place to get the best shots.  They interacted with the trekkers and support staff.  And, I have no idea how many hours have gone into editing since the trek ended.  

-       Other Volunteers.  Several other adult leaders came to trek or provided other service prior to trek, some to represent their bishopric, to come with their spouse, or just to come participate and help.  Service was rendered wherever it was needed.

These adult leaders are proof that the law of consecration is alive and well among the Saints.  So many live it every day, giving of their time, resources, and talents to serve the Lord by serving others.  It wasn’t easy or simple for many of these people to take time off of work, to take time away from other important projects, or to spend much of their own money to make this trek a success.  They did it anyway, despite the hardship and sacrifice. 

Monday, June 24, 2013

Wasatch Back Ragnar: Shot Blocks and Miracles on Leg 27

This past weekend my sister Heather and I both ran the same legs of the Wasatch Back Ragnar.  It was an amazing year to run as Ragnar celebrated the 10th year of the Wasatch Back.  They did two relays over three days.  It was my third time running the Wasatch Back and her first.  We've both ran the SoCal, Vegas, and Zion Trail Ragnars as well.  This year, my dad who first got us to run relays, marathons, and half marathons, is deployed to the Middle East and other locations with the Navy Reserve.  To honor his service our family and some of our friends are running races in the yellow Navy shirt you see Heather wearing above.

Anyway, this year I filled in for my dad on the Provo Police Department Team, Twelve Brothers.  Heather ran on Team Do or Do Not with Jeff Wells, a family friend who has ran several relays and other races with us.  Heather's team started a couple of hours earlier than us so she sent me reports on each leg after she finished.  After the first two legs she shared glowing reports on the beauty of the course.  As our van prepared to leave for our final leg I received the following text from her regarding Leg 27, our last leg:

"Good luck on the last run.  It's a freakin' $#%^$!"

I responded with: "Thanks for the encouragement.  I was hoping you would lie to me."

She shared a few more of the details with me which were quite funny (and a bit discouraging) at the time.  Later, after the Ragnar, she posted the following on Facebook.  It's a great story for a number of reasons.  I'll let you decide what those reasons are for yourself.  Here's her story:

So I just wanted to share a little experience I had this last weekend while running the Ragnar. It may not mean much to some of you, but it meant something to me. 

I had already run my first two legs which consisted of a 6.7 mile run and a 4.9 mile run and was about to run a 7.7 mile run with a LOT of hill. I had no van support on this run, which means that my team could not stop and assist me at any time for anything. 

I woke up that morning at 3:45 am to prepare for my next run, only to be nauseated. No matter, I was still there when my team mate came in and handed me the bracelet. 

However, at about 1/2 mile in I realized that I had forgotten my shot blocks to help sustain me through this run. There was NO way I was going to make it. I was going to let my team down by walking most of it, but most of all I was going to let myself down. If I had had the energy to cry I probably would have. 

It was then that I said a very angry prayer to my Heavenly Father. How can I be SO stupid?! I had those stupid shot blocks ready to go and I left them?! How am I going to make this run?! Maybe I should lie on the side of the road and wait for someone else's van to pick me up and take me to my next destination??? I can't run while sick to my stomach and have no energy either! I QUIT!

And as soon as I had ended my prayer the Lord sent me an answer. Not any of the ones that I had suggested, but still he answered. And when I looked down at the ground in utter desperation I found a beautiful little red shot block that another runner must have dropped! It was perfect! 

It was so perfect and of such great value to me at this point in time I decided to eat it. Yes, I ate it off the ground and was not ashamed! Even when another runner looked back at me questioningly for second. In fact it was the opposite of shame. It was relief and gratitude. 

In fact it was so perfect and valuable and I was so grateful that I decided it best to ration it out through my run. I bit it in half and put the other half in my pocket for later. And when I reached the second water station I happily ate the other half. 

This little shot block did not make my run much easier. I still struggled through the entire run, but it lifted my spirits enough to finish. And I was still some what angry during and for a little bit after the run. And when I told this story to my team mates in the van they all broke out in laughter with me. 

And yes, I will run the Ragnar again next year!