Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Coincidence? That would be too EZ.

 Vacationing near Lake Havasu in Arizona, we started our morning, as per our routine, with morning prayer. In that prayer, I asked that, if it be God’s will, that he use as as tools in his hands to provide service in some way to his children here on Earth. 

Around 10am we drove out to take care of a quick errand with a plan to leave the hotel at around 11am to drive to our next stop, a La Quinta Hotel near McCarren Airport in Las Vegas. The errand took us to a part of Lake Havasu City that we would not have gone to simply in our drive out of the city. Coming back to the hotel, we spotted a gas station with an attractive price of less than $3.00 a gallon posted, so we chose to stop and fill our car for the drive.

At the pump on the other side of the island was a couple close to our age filling a pickup truck and a beautiful blue and white ski-boat. In a pause, I complimented him on his boat and how well cared-for both the boat and the truck looked. This led to a conversation. He noted I was a veteran (from my Arizona affinity license plates). I noted he was a retired fire-fighter from stickers displayed on his pickup truck. We chatted and compared notes on a few items of mutual interest. He introduced himself as Richard Reichle. When his wife joined us he introduced her as Nancy. They were from Dana Point, California.

In the conversation, it came out that they were preparing to drive Nancy to McCarren Airport so she could fly home through John Wayne/Orange County airport. As a nurse, she had to be back to work in a day or so. Richard planned to stay a bit longer to do some boating so would be returning from Las Vegas to Lake Havasu. Hmmm, I said, “That’s where we are going today—our hotel is next door to the airport.” We exchanged information, including snapping photos of drivers licenses and sharing mobile numbers.

And so it came that Nancy rode with us from Lake Havasu City to McCarren Airport. She was lovely company, and picked up the tab for lunch at a Carl’s Jr in Needles, California. Richard was saved the round trip drive to Las Vegas with the attendant cost and time involved. The kicker: Both Richard and Nancy claimed to be prayerful people, Christians, and we have no cause to doubt them. They told us that they had, that morning, prayed for God to bless Nancy’s trip to the Las Vegas airport and to make it as simple and stress-free as possible. 

You may recall we prayed that we could be of service. Richard and Nancy prayed for some help. We were placed together and discovered a painless and cost-free way for us to be an answer to their prayer. 

Events such as this, you may call a strange coincidence. I call it a faith-building experience. We bid Nancy goodbye at the curb in McCarren Aiport. Our hotel was two minutes away.

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

EZ's Luck

Do you believe in miracles, or do you call it fate? When the inevitable is unexplainably avoided, Is it luck, Karma, grace, or just the roll of the dice?

In the mid-1980s, we set out to drive as a family from San Antonio, Texas to Las Vegas, Nevada. That’s 1,295 U.S. miles (2,084 kilometers) by the most direct route. At that time the national speed limit in the U.S. was 55 miles per hour on the open highways and less in built-up areas. Luckily, there weren’t that many built-up areas there. With gas and rest stops the drive was planned to take about 28 hours of otherwise continual driving. My wife and I planned to take turns driving while the ‘off-duty’ one slept—our car was equipped with a big, reclining seat for the front-seat passenger to make sleeping a bit easier. Our three kids would have the back seat with pillows, blankets, snacks, and Mario Brothers and Donkey Kong on a crude hand-held Nintendo to occupy them. And fighting. They always had fighting amongst themselves for entertainment.

We left San Antonio just after sunset on a Friday evening planning to drive across the West Texas flatlands in the cool of the August night. The gas stops are laid out across that stretch of Interstate Highway 10 West to allow stops every couple of hours and there’s always food and coffee as well as restrooms available at the gas stations. I had enjoyed a long afternoon nap, so I felt fresh and took the first driving shift. Even after our second gas stop, I still felt great and wanted to continue driving. I had a cold Diet Dr Pepper (heavily caffeinated carbonated beverage) and my ‘tunes’ to help me. I had wired a headphone jack into the car’s audio system so that I could listen to Men at Work, Toto, Bonnie Tyler, and Spandau Ballet on the car’s built-in stereo cassette player while the family dozed with only the highway sounds to lull them.

By two in the morning, we were a few miles east of Fort Stockton, Texas; 300 miles and six hours from home. The wife was curled up with her seat reclined, a huge pillow between her head and the passenger’s side of the car, another pillow wrapped in her arms. It had been silent in the back seat for many, many miles. There wasn’t even a green glow of a Nintendo screen visible in my interior mirror. Traffic had become as sparse as lakes in the West Texas desert. The car’s engine hummed; the tires smoothly sang their highway song. The cruise control was set at 55 mph. I planned to make a fuel stop in Fort Stockton and change drivers so I could sleep. I sipped my Dr Pepper and sang along silently to Total Eclipse of the Heart for the seventh or eighth time. I congratulated myself on planning such a stress-free family car trip. All was well. I thought.

A sudden and very loud WHACK got my attention. My eyes popped open (when did I close them?) We were no longer safe on the smooth pavement of IH-10. The passenger side wheels were in the gravel on the road’s shoulder. My training as a driver allowed me to avoid panic—fortunately—I did not slam on the brakes. Statistics and studies show that is the worst thing to do when a car’s passenger wheels leave the pavement. Rather I quickly but gently touched the brake pedal to cancel the cruise control. Then, steering very, very slightly to the left to avoid going further off the road but not to lurch the car back onto the paved surface, I began to apply the brake gently but in earnest. The car came safely to a stop. I couldn’t see ahead of the car from the dust thrown up by our wheels as we ground to a halt. I put the transmission in Park, killed the ignition, and turned off the headlights. The stop, and the WHACK, of course, awoke the family. By the time we were stopped, everyone was like, “What?” “What’s going on?” “Why are we stopped.” I couldn’t answer. I was too busy shaking and trying to breathe, wondering why we were all still alive and not broken and bleeding out on the harsh desert floor.

After explaining to my wife and the children that I had dozed and run off the road, but we were stopped and all safe, so not to worry, I stepped out of the car with my flashlight, a 3-battery MagLite, to survey the situation. I first looked at the car for damage. There was some: The passenger’s side door mirror was gone—just gone! I could see no other damage. No dents, no scratches. Walking back alongside the road about 200-300 feet, about 60-100 meters, from the way we had come I found an upright steel roadside marker post, its reflectorized top badge bent in the direction of our travel. Shining the flashlight around further from the road, I could see fragments of broken mirror on the desert floor. A miracle! We had apparently left the paved roadway at just the right time and at just the correct angle for that roadside marker pole to wipe the passenger side mirror off the car, make a huge WHACK sound to awaken me, and do no other damage. I momentarily marveled that we had not only survived unhurt but still had a sound and usable car not having rolled across the desert floor or shattered on boulders. As I walked back toward the car, I raised my MagLite beam to shine ahead to see if we had an easy route back onto the paved highway. What I saw caused my heart to stop and I fell to my knees. My breath just wouldn’t come! I thought I had been frightened and shaking when I first controlled the car to a stop. Now I was in shock. Not twenty feet (<4 meters) in front of the car was a solid concrete abutment making up the base of a highway overpass to allow a secondary road to cross over the top of IH-10. Miracle, indeed! If…if…

If our car had drifted off the highway a second or two later…if the highway roadside marker had been six inches further from the roadway…if…if… We would have gone head-on into that concrete abutment with the cruise control set at 55 mph. While we were seat-belted, automotive airbags had not yet been invented, and in any case probably could not have saved us from certain, sudden death. I don’t know how long it was before I could stand and return to the car. I didn’t tell or show my family the truth of the situation, but I did tell them we were very ‘lucky’ that the roadside marker had awakened me and done minimal damage to the car. Apologizing to all for my failure and assuring my wife I was now more than wide awake, and that I’d drive the very few miles into Fort Stockton, after which she could drive, I started the car, engaged the gear, turned on the lights and left flasher and bumped back up onto the roadway.

Call it what you may. We must surely owe our lives to some type of intervention.   



Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Camping is not EZ

 In 1990 my family and I were living in Okinawa, Japan, as part of my military assignment. 

The military had a ‘retreat’ at Okuma Beach. Okuma was truly beautiful. On one occasion, my wife and I left the family in our eldest daughter’s care (she was 18 and a high-school graduate by then) and went to Okuma Beach for the weekend. We took a small pop-up tent and not much else as this was intended to be a real ‘get away’ for us. We had a great day and dinner at the club. Our campsite was all set up in the crowded campground. Night fell and we crawled into the low tent and retired to our sleeping bags by about 10pm. Okinawa is hot. And very often, humid. This night must have been trying to set a record on both counts. Dead still, not a sign of a breeze, the temperature hovered around 100F and the humidity was so high it felt like a sauna inside the tent. This tent had a removeable ‘fly’ at the top, which we had taken off to allow us to view the heavens through the screened open top of the tent. The flaps were all open and tied back in an attempt to capture any vestige of moving air. There was no moving air. There was no idea of getting INTO the sleeping bags, rather we lay on top trying to sleep. Pajamas were abandoned for underwear. In the sticky heat, that clothing was soon clinging to our sweat-covered bodies and even that light material was too much, so was removed. Finally, probably around midnight, despite the discomfort of the heat, we drifted to sleep, skyclad, as my Wiccan friends would say. 

FLASH! CRASH! BANG! Then SPLASH! Thunder, lightning, then torrential tropical rain awoke us, fierce wind shook the tent—a severe thunderstorm had moved in. What was it, 2:30am or so? Remember that open ‘fly’ at the top of the tent? It now served as a direct conduit for rain to drench in as if through a funnel—and the rainwater felt cold after the earlier steamy heat we had experienced. Looking outside through the tent-door-flap screen, I could see that all was in total darkness—the electricity must be off, as all of the security lighting around the campground was out. My wife, muttering, had pulled a sleeping bag over her nakedness to fend off the rain. Well, there was nothing for it but to try to get that ‘fly’ fastened back onto the top of the tent to protect us and our belongings from the rain. I told her, “Zip up all of the side flaps to keep the rain out!”

Fortunately, the fly was inside the tent and I knew exactly where it was. Unzipping the screen flap, I grabbed the fly and forged out, on hands and knees, onto wet sand and into the driven rain. Desperately holding the flapping nylon fly material in the wind, I stood and felt for the loops to which secure the flap with its clips. FLASH! BANG! The world was briefly illuminated by lightning as if it were noon. That meant I could see the first of the clips. It also meant, that if anyone were looking, they could see me. In all my glory. In the wind-driven rain. Fighting with a piece of nylon tent material. Snap. One clip done. FLASH! BANG! With each bolt of lightning the world was daylight again for a second. Snap. Two clips. Snap. Three clips. FLASH! BANG! Finally, I finished fastening the fly, dropped to hands and knees, and with one final FLASH! I crawled into the tent. 

As I pulled the door flap shut and zipped it, the rain stopped as suddenly as it had begun. The storm moved on to the east, but it had, at least cooled the temperature and left a gentle and steady breeze in its wake. We were able to once again open the side and door flaps, with screens in place, and while wet, we were comfortable enough to get some sleep, awaking to a gorgeous sunrise.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Maybe Christ-like love can be EZ...

A Facebook 'friend' regularly challenges his followers to post for all to see what we consider to have been the best part of the Sabbath for us. When I posted for Sunday, December 6, 2020, I found it not EZ to narrow the field down to one. Follows is my response to his challenge:

Oh, Brad. There was so much: First, I thought the testimonies from Sacrament Meeting and being able to attend that Sacrament Meeting in person (masked and distanced but there) and having our young grandson with us. Then, I thought, no his insistence on donating his hard-earned $5 so others could be helped was the best.

Then we watched the afternoon Music and The Spoken Word. That was so good. Later we enjoyed Lauren Deigle's BYU TV special, Christmas Under the Stars. Marvelous! That was followed by the Christmas Devotional, especially Elder Holland's poem (did he write that?) Touching. So much! How can I choose the one best item?

After the devotional, we enjoyed our ward's 'drive-through' Christmas social with wonderful Christmas music and spirit, amazing hot chocolate and caramel corn (sorry, this post would be incomplete without this food reference).

Then we got home and read the words of Gary E. Stevenson in the booklet "Let Every Heart Prepare Him Room," given us by the ward at the social. Wow! It's all the best.

But, then, after a late evening walk with the dog, marveling with my EC at the beauty of the Christmas decorations and noticing that the unseasonably cool weather here in SE Mesa makes it feel more like Christmas, I decided to check my social media before bed. There I found, in a post on our neighborhood Facebook page and related comments, what I will have to call the best thing of the day for me--and sentimentality, nostalgia, and Christ-like love all play a part.

A young couple in the neighborhood had a treasured 'Baby's First Christmas' ornament that had been given them at the birth of their first child, a daughter, in 2013. Unfortunately, the young child was not well and despite the best efforts of the parents and medical science, 2013 was her first and only earthly Christmas. This couple had faithfully kept that ornament as a memorial to their lost daughter, enjoying its beauty and her memory each Christmas. This year, as they carefully removed it from it's protective packing, the delicate ornament shattered. They were shattered at the loss. A neighbor knew of their distress and began to look for a duplicate of the ornament to give them. To his dismay, he found they were no longer sold by Hallmark and were very hard to find. Because they are rare (and sentimental) they have become valuable. What probably sold for less than $10 in 2013 seemed now to be available only as a single item on eBay with a current bid of nearly $300 and four days left in the auction. As sort of a last resort, our neighbor posted the story to our local Facebook page.

There was much outpouring of empathy, sympathy, and love for the bereaved couple--offers of donations of money to buy the item from eBay included. Better, soon a neighbor lady posted, "We received several of these as gifts years ago when our daughter was born. We have one, identical and unused. It is yours if you want it." The first neighbor accepted her generous offer, and the bereaved couple will receive a token of love in remembrance of their lost daughter. No money is changing hands. No power, except that of love, has been exercised. The acts described are not Earth-shaking and required no horrible sacrifice but demonstrate simple, kind, acts of love, service, and generosity.  This became the best part of my Sunday and I thank God for my neighbors, His children, all.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Debating is EZ. Winning the debate, maybe not so much

My comments in a Facebook discussion regarding actions suggested by public health officials to slow the spread of COVID-19. John, referenced below, is not a never-masker, but many of our mutual friends are. In the FB discussion, they were maintaining that it was their God-given right to not wear a mask, to not stay at home, and to not limit the size of gatherings they sponsor or attend. John commented that COVID-19 was much different than HIV because it was less deadly and that each person should be able to choose how much risk they were willing to accept. My point has been all along: It’s not how much risk each person is individually willing to accept, it’s how much their actions increase the degree of risk of others who have no say in the matter.

“Thank you, John, for helping me so clearly understand my points in this respectful discussion.

HIV didn't scare me. (Not that I'm especially scared of COVID, either, but that's mostly because of my hope in Christ.) Why didn't HIV scare me? Once we understood the mechanics of transmission, I realized that I had a significant degree of control over my level of risk. I chose to avoid risky behavior and that made me a very unlikely victim of HIV. Very unlikely, but still some small risk from the possibility of blood transfusion, etc. Life is not ever without risk, yet I believe we have the responsibility to control risk where we can practically do so.

I don't have the same degree of control over my risk with COVID. I can do all I can do, yet I can't be sure that an infected and unmasked person won't spread droplets in my vicinity, or sneeze on that food package that the 'no contact' deliveryman will leave at my doorstep later. And I don’t have the choice to not breathe or get groceries—I’m not ready to live naked in the wilderness and subsist on locusts and wild honey.

In the book of Matthew, Jesus taught us that a Christian should rise above the mere avoidance of doing evil to reach the ideal of not even thinking of evil (as in Matthew 5:27-28) AND in Matthew 25:40, he taught that we are to ensure that we do good and not harm even unto the least of our brothers and sisters. In Luke, he teaches us to love our neighbor as ourselves. As I read the scriptures and try to apply them to my daily walk (which I am much less than perfect in doing), I can not understand how I could knowingly fail to take steps to even *possibly* protect others--even the least of these. In this, I'm not even being asked to go so far as to cross over the road to aid and comfort the wounded. I'm just being asked to not harm or further hurt him.

The risk of death from COVID is lower than that of HIV and it appears to be lower now than earlier this year. Thank God for that. These statistics are cold comfort to the loved ones of the 240,000 COVID victims in the U.S. How many of those deaths may have been prevented by simply taking responsibility to be, at least a little bit, our brother's keepers? We will not know in this lifetime.”

Monday, October 19, 2020

Maintaining perfection must not be EZ!

Today, I have to admit to taking extraordinary joy in another’s mistake. Noting, if you will, the clay feet of one of my heroes.

I don’t think it’s Schadenfreude. I certainly wish him no ill. I did, of course, have to jump into the fray with other followers in calling him out in public. But he is a public figure, so I figure that’s OK. I also believe he has a well-developed sense of humor and will take the ribbing well.

His mistake was not a very serious one – he simply posted to Facebook a meme. I don’t believe it was a meme of his creation—simply cute, timely, and presenting all the attributes to make it worth sharing. With one exception: There was an error in the text of the meme. A fairly obvious error. It is very likely that his forward-sharing of the meme, error and all, will have no negative impact on anyone. But it is funny.

What makes it especially funny (sweet?) is that the poster in question is none other than the well-known and highly-regarded internet publisher Randy Cassingham. With his publication, This is True, and other associated media such as a podcast, the True Stella Awards, and articles published here on Medium, Randy promotes the application of common sense and the use of our mental faculties to think about things. Randy has been publishing on the internet since before publishing on the internet was a common thing to do. He has proven himself to be persistent, reliable, and astute—normally well-written and a smooth verbal presenter. I have been a satisfied paid subscriber to his This is True newsletter for years and I have learned to respect him and his opinions, even if we disagree occasionally.

Randy’s minor Facebook faux-pas doesn’t change any of that. If anything, such a sign of his humanity only makes me feel a stronger link of brotherhood.

Much of what Randy publishes is very funny—most of it is very enlightening—and nearly all of it makes me think. That, according to Randy is his goal.

Thanks, Randy, for showing you are not perfect and for allowing a laugh at your expense to brighten my day.


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Published October 19, 2020 at


Sunday, September 13, 2020

Reminiscing is EZ; International Travel, not so much.

A question posted to Quora asked: “Have you, as a U.S. citizen, ever been denied entry to another country?”  Well, pull up a chair, children. I've a tale to tell:

Oh, yes! In 1990 I was living in Okinawa, Japan, working for the U.S. Military as a health-and-safety specialist. We provided consultative services to all U.S. organizations (military, State Department, Health and Human Services, etc.) located anywhere on the western edge of the Pacific Rim area from Alaska to New Zealand. We received a call from the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia for some assistance. I was tagged to make the trip. At this time the only passport that I had was a 'red' U.S. official passport — I had used that for all official travel for two years with no problem — it is what the U.S. Government, as my employer, had issued me. What I didn’t know was that Indonesia, at that time, did NOT recognize the U.S. official passport. All entry by U.S. citizens into Indonesia had to be with the standard 'blue' passport, with, at the least, an airline-issued visa. As I said, I didn’t know. But the good folks from the U.S. embassy in Jakarta knew. They also knew that I would be traveling with my red passport and didn’t bother to tell me about this little ‘detail.’ My transit from Naha was on Northwest Airlines, and *they* didn’t object to my routing and travel documents, either.

Photo by Wendy on Flickr. Used under Creative Commons License.

On my arrival at the customs and immigration desk in Jakarta, the immigration official, dressed in olive drab green military fatigues, took my passport, eyed it, then me, then it, then me…and loudly blew a big chromed whistle hanging from his neck. Looking up I saw two military uniformed men with semi-automatic-looking rifles hanging from their shoulders approaching rather rapidly. The man at the desk handed my passport to one of the military men and told me, “Go with them!” Well, what could I do? With one of the military men on either side of me, we proceeded to walk down the sloping floor of a long hallway away from the arrival area. This was distressing. This was pre- TSA and I’d never been treated like this. Even the facility seemed to echo doom and gloom with sickly yellow sulfur gas-discharge lamps overhead, dark and unpleasant colors on the concrete walls, and a black non-skid rubberized flooring surface. Visions of a dismal, damp concrete-and-steel cell swam through my mind. Ahead I could see large automated glass doors and beyond that a crowded arrival plaza.

As we approached the doors they slid open and, I swear, Agent K and Agent J from Men in Black, suits, ties, sunglasses and all, exited a big black Chevy Suburban and swept quickly into the building. Of course, it couldn't have been Agent K and Agent J. This was seven years before Men in Black was available for viewing. They approached the two Indonesian military men (the guys with the rifles) and began a rapid conversation in Indonesian, I assume. The conversation got a bit heated, with the sunglasses guys doing quite a bit of gesturing and head nodding. Finally, the taller of the sunglasses guys put an arm around the shoulder of one of the Indonesian military men and led him a few paces to the side—their conversation continued in a muted mumble for a few moments. Then the mood lightened and head-nodding seemed the new norm for the four of them. The taller of the sunglasses guys (Agent K?), now with my red passport in his hand, turned to me and said, in English, “Come with us”. Out the glass doors and into the back seat of the black Suburban we went.

As we drove away Agent J says, “Relax. We’re from the U.S. Embassy and we're taking you there.”

“My luggage…?” I asked.

“Taken care of.” Said Agent K.

So it was. I was taken to the embassy compound and introduced to the people I’d be working with for the next few days. They told me I was in the custody of the U.S. Embassy staff rather than in an Indonesian jail as a courtesy to the U.S. extended due to goodwill by President Suharto. The embassy official made it very clear that I was not, under any circumstances, to leave the embassy compound. Well, not too tough. I was escorted to a deluxe room near the embassy restaurant and club, poolside. There I found that all the creature comforts of a tropical resort were available for me in my off-duty time. Off duty staff, spouses, and family were relaxing around the pool outside my door. Some were being served exotic cocktails by white-coated wait staff. My luggage and professional equipment were already in my room. Not a bad way to spend a workweek.

When my work was done with the embassy’s medical staff, I got a ride in the black Suburban back to the airport where I was escorted by the two sunglassed agents into the custody, again, of armed uniformed guards. The guards took me to the outgoing customs/immigration desk where the officer there stamped my passport with the date and, in bright red, the words, “DEPORTED—REENTRY DENIED; DIUNDANG—DITENTUKAN.” I caught my Northwest Airlines flight back to Okinawa and found I’d been upgraded to international business class. I had not requested an upgrade.

So, this is how I got deported from Indonesia. It still irks me that the embassy staff there allowed me to walk into the situation unaware. In 1990, the internet was in its infancy, and it wasn’t so easy to research State Department advisories and travel information on the various countries. I had depended on the travel staff in Okinawa, the airline, and my U.S. Embassy hosts to let me know what I needed to know. In the end, they took good care of me, but I’ve got to admit to being a bit frightened as I was led away from the immigration clerk’s desk. Thanks, men in black, for keeping my week in Indonesia safe!