2021 – A Very Good Year

I feel like I’ve been sprinting since 2021 began, and it’s only looking back that I realize I was running a marathon this whole time. You can’t sprint a marathon.


But we all kind of have been anyway, haven’t we? It’s not just me. Whether it’s been dashing towards the ever-moving pandemic finish line or trying to keep up with the pace of this new world and our own changing personal circumstances as the result of it (tell me your life is the same as it was when the year began and I’ll show you the liar in the room), it’s been hard to keep up. Here at the end of the year, I’m not feeling so fleet-footed anymore.


(I’m moving on from this running metaphor now. I’m out of synonyms, first of all, and second of all I’m tired. We’re all tired. Let’s slow it down and talk about walking instead.)


It’s been a good year, hasn’t it? Not entirely, and maybe not even mostly. Maybe this is your worst year ever. But there have been good things, because there are always are.


Always.


I have seen people reaching deeper this year. Within themselves, within their relationships, within their faith. Calamity and uncertainty are so important. They are the test or correction we pass through to remove the fogginess and make our path clear.


A clear path is so, so important. The promise of a path is that you’ll get where you’re going, so long as you stay on it. Speed is unimportant. No need to run. Stay on the path and you’ll get there, no matter what may come.
It’s so easy to stray from the path when we are unbothered. When we walk the path with ease, we may think the way unimportant, as though it is our very footsteps that define the landscape, and not the carefully cultivated direction in which we are headed.


The mistake easily made, then, is to wander. To blaze our own trail as though any path will do so long as we are the ones who walk it. To think ourselves the source of our fortune or grace, to not recognize the already-been-there trailblazers and helping hands of friends, family, co-workers, systems, history. God.


Ever change your walk? I don’t mean “in life” or “with God,” I mean literally change the way you walk? I’ve done it consciously about 5 or 6 times, each time to temporary, embarrassing effect.


I don’t remember the specifics, but there have been a handful of times in my life when I was feel really, really full of myself. Maybe a girl I liked smiled at me or I won tickets to a concert on the radio or…I dunno. The reasons are forgotten, but I can remember these few times when I was feeling pretty cool and decided my walk should reflect that.
So, I held my head a little higher and sauntered about with a bit more… Crud, “more” nothing. I sauntered, okay? I don’t normally saunter.


And, every time I have ever done this I have tripped. I have stubbed my toe on a crack in the sidewalk, I have rolled my ankle coming off a step, I have banged by head on a low-hanging tree branch. Every time. It’s pathological.


I stopped trying to change my walk years ago because the lesson was finally learned. Well, a twofold lesson:


1. I am not cool.


2. I am not the builder of the path.


I have seen people succeed wildly by thinking the path unimportant and straying from it. That can happen. Some people can walk all cool like and not trip and fall down, but they can doom themselves just the same if they mistake the path as an inconsequential thing or something they control and then walk where they please. Success can be such a test in that way. In many ways, it’s the ultimate test.


This is why this year–this cruddy year full of disappointments, unfairness, injustice, and that dude down the street whose dog keeps crapping on your lawn–THIS year, is good. It is good to get knocked down into the dirt. To get down eye level with the path, search for it, and get back on.


This year, I think, is our opportunity for examination. For looking down at our feet and assessing where we are in relation to the path. Are we on it? Or far from it?

That’s the ultimate good all this bad can do. That, I would submit, is precisely how God works in our lives. He knocks us down sometimes to allow us to build back up properly. He hits us smack in the face with a low-hanging tree branch to help us to stumble back onto the path.


My own personal examinations this year have been difficult. I have become acutely aware in recent months of how inconsiderate I can be. How bullheaded. How unaware of what seem to me to be innocuous, unimportant moments of distraction or dismissiveness that affect those I care about and rely on most. I’m old enough now that I’ve removed a lot of guile from my being, but within all my good intentions, I have not always necessarily been intentionAL. It’s a hard lesson, and a nuanced one at that. But crucial.


So, I’m glad for 2021. It’a been a good year. And look, I know that my 2021 has been probably better than most–it’s not even in the Top 10 of my worst years–but I know from a bad year, and I can also tell you this: your best year and your worst year can be the same year.


And if not the literal best, then something adjacent to that. All this bad can work for good. It can help you stay on or get back to the path.


Think about that. Think about the math of that. Even the bad can be good? If I were the devil, that would really piss me off.

I Have COVID-19 and I’m Not Mad. I’m Just Disappointed.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

I’m sitting here, my head all stuffed up and my body aching with fatigue, and I’m looking over at my wife who is feeling the same way but worse (she always gets it—whatever it is—worse than I do) and I’m thinking: How did we get COVID-19?

And I know the answer and it’s a simple one and I’m going to tell you and I’m also telling you, right now, I’m not inviting your opinion or your debate. Not on this one. What I’m doing is telling my story, my perspective, and what I know in the hopes that it can do some good. Maybe it won’t, but I’ve got to try. And in trying, I’ll do my best to not scold or make anyone feel bad, but I also can’t guarantee that won’t happen. Because:

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

We have COVID-19 because not enough people have gotten vaccinated. That’s it. That’s the truth. That’s the reason Erin and I are currently locked up in our house together, coughing for the first time in 18 months, nose dripping for the first time in 18 months, and head swirling and sinuses draining for the first time in 18 months.

You might be thinking, “Well, that doesn’t sound so bad.” And you’re right, it’s not that bad. Any other year, I’d have thought it was allergies or a head cold, but a test yesterday proved otherwise. We have COVID-19. It finally got us.

We locked down in March 2020. We did the full year and change of staying away from family, friends, restaurants, and public spaces mostly for the sake of our middle daughter (who is immuno-compromised), but also because it was wise and we could do so without suffering economic hardship. Believe me, I know how fortunate that makes us, and I’m grateful to and understanding of those who showed up to work during that time anyway.

So, why and when did my family finally come out of isolation? Once we were vaccinated. Two shots.

That’s why our symptoms aren’t that bad: we’re vaccinated. Fully. Have been for a while. What a miracle that vaccine is. We still obey the CDC protocols and mask up when necessary and restrict our contact with the unvaccinated (particularly for the sake of our youngest, who is not old enough to receive the vaccine quite yet), but it has been nice to return to something resembling normalcy. A prophet of the Lord, Russell M. Nelson, who leads the Church I belong to, said this:

“With approval from our physician, my wife, Wendy, and I were vaccinated today against COVID-19. We are very grateful. This was the first week either of us was eligible to receive the vaccine. We are thankful for the countless doctors, scientists, researchers, manufacturers, government leaders, and others who have performed the grueling work required to make this vaccine available. We have prayed often for this literal godsend.”

Nice, right? “Godsend.” But then he took it a step further. The Church he leads donated $20 million to COVAX, a global campaign to provide 2 billion COVID-19 vaccines to people in low- and middle-income countries. That’s quite the endorsement. $20 million. Wow.

Then, he went even further. The same day he made that statement on his personal social media, the Church issued an official statement urging members to “help quell the pandemic by safeguarding themselves and others through immunization” because “vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life.”

Then, because perhaps a lot of people still weren’t getting it, on March 31 of this year, a change was made to the Church’s General Handbook, Section 38, where it reads: “Vaccinations administered by competent medical professionals protect health and preserve life. Members of the church are encouraged to safeguard themselves, their children and their communities through vaccination.”

Why do I quote all this? Because, number one, I’m so grateful to be led by a prophet of God, but also because I have a diverse friend group and I think it’s worth pointing out to some of my non-believing friends that while defiant churches get all the press, there are other churches out there that are a little more sober-minded.

And yet…still I know there is hesitancy. Even within the Church I belong to…even with all this unmistakable instruction out there…there is hesitancy. There are those who have not taken the time to get vaccinated.

And that is why my wife and I have COVID-19.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

See, there’s this little thing called “herd immunity.” It’s what you get when either a) a virus has worked its way through a significant portion of the population and antibodies are super present, or b) when you have enough of the population vaccinated that the virus can’t spread. Our grandparents understood this stuff way better. They beat back polio not by dying off, but by vaccinating.

“Hold up,” I hear you saying. “You’re vaccinated. What gives? Herd immunity is for the weak, right? For those who can’t get vaccinated? So how did you get COVID-19?”

Well, funny thing. When a population doesn’t have a vaccine or chooses not to get vaccinated, they’re giving the virus the very thing it wants most: time. Time to mutate. Time to develop into something more powerful and stronger. Time to become something that can resist vaccines.

Enter: The Delta variant.

Good ol’ Delta Variant. It’s a fighter, that one. Recent mutation. Stronger, faster, more agile. Able to penetrate even the double vaxxed in a single bound.

And boy, does it love YOU. You, with your mask under your nose or not on at all (same thing). You, with your conspiracy theories. You, with your busy schedule. You, with your politics. You, with all your reasons.

You, with your fear.

“Faith not fear.” It’s something I’ve heard a lot lately. You know, I can’t say I’ve been fearful even once in the past year and a half. I trust my God and I trust the experts He inspires. I know that the very worst thing you can imagine can happen at any moment, and I know that because life has thrown me that kind of curveball more than once. So, I don’t live in fear. That’s a waste of precious time between tragedies. I live in gratitude.

But I also put on my dang seat belt.

It’s not fear that motivates mask wearing and vaccinating. It’s common sense. Fear is resisting a thing that’s trying to save you because it might rewrite your DNA, give you 5G, put a microchip in you, cause infertility, or take a piece of your pride.

Remember Moses and the Israelites? They were plagued by venomous snakes. Moses created a brass serpent, stuck it on a pole, and told them to look at it. If they did, they’d be healed. If they didn’t, well…a lot of people died. They friggin’ died because they wouldn’t look at the thing. Can you imagine?

Of course you can. You live in 2021.

I’m not mad. I’m just disappointed.

I don’t pretend to know everything about the virus, but I trust the people who do. Steve Jobs died because he thought the opposite way about cancer. My favorite quote on this is from Bill Burr. He was a guest on the Joe Rogan Show, and he said this:

“I’m not going to sit here with no medical degree, listening to you with no medical degree, with an American flag behind you, smoking a cigar, acting like we know what’s up better than the CDC. All I do is I watch the news once every two weeks. I’m like ‘Mask or no mask? Still mask? Alright, masks.’ That’s all I give a f**k about.”

Obviously, Burr said this way before the vaccinations came about. I can only imagine what he’s saying now. (He cusses a lot; I don’t make a habit of listening to Bill Burr. But that doesn’t make him stupid. Or wrong.)

My wife and I have COVID-19 because we, as a society, have given refuge to a virus that has killed more Americans than WWI, WWII, Vietnam, and 9/11 combined. That virus has been allowed to grow and mutate into something that is spreading faster and farther not because we don’t have the ability to fight it, but because too many of us have chosen not to.

I don’t get it. I thought we were fighters. More, I thought that in this country we looked out for each other, not just for ourselves. I thought we were smarter and stronger than this. I don’t get it. I just don’t get it.

Okay, maybe I’m a little mad.

But I’m mostly just disappointed.

My wife and I are lucky. Our symptoms are mild and because we’re vaccinated they are not likely to last long. After 10 days of quarantine, we should be able to see our kids again. We just got back from Georgia, so that’s a total of 15 days overall. We’ve never been apart from them for that long. Worth it to keep them safe.

My wife and I are lucky. We’re vaccinated and though the Delta Variant got to us, it could have been far, far worse. If you’re not vaccinated and you’re not persuaded by the responsibility you have to us and to your fellow man, then please, please get it for yourself. Don’t make the foolish mistake of thinking you’re super healthy or you’ve already had it so you’re good—that’s not how herd immunity works with mutations on the rise, and plenty of people—some of whom I know personally—have gotten this thing twice. It’s not a hoax, it’s not an imaginary story. It’s real and it’s infecting new and younger and repeat people all the time.

My wife and I are lucky. We know we’ve been doing all we can. I may have COVID-19, but my conscience is clear.

Please, please clear your conscience if it needs that. I genuinely am not trying to make you feel bad and I will embrace you with open arms and a hearty “Good job!” once you do. I would love to do that.

If you’re reading this, you’re likely my friend. Please know that this issue—while important to me and one I have a lot of feelings and sinus pressure on (soooo much sinus pressure)—will not divide us. I won’t let it, for my part. I won’t trade one bad thing for a greater evil.

But, please, let’s do this together. Let’s look at the brass serpent and head over to the promised land together. I hear it’s awesome there.

Will You Stay Home This Christmas? Please?

Will you stay home this Christmas? Please?

This isn’t a condemnation. This is a plea. Opinions on this virus are as varied as my friends list and I’m not trying to debate or engage with any of that. I know there are many who have probably already stopped reading and tuned me out and believe me, I’m not here to convince you. I don’t think I can and I won’t try. I love and respect you despite our differences on this issue. Feel free to move on.

I’m here for those who might be on the fence. For those who are feeling the pressure from family to join together or have been invited to a party and really want to go but maybe, in the back of their minds, there’s a voice that’s saying, “Well, maybe I shouldn’t.”

To you I say: please, stay home. You are not alone and I and many others support you. Cancel that party. Tell your parents, your grandparents, your aunts, your uncles, your children, and your friends that you love them and don’t want to upset them, but this virus is really bad right now and hospitals are overwhelmed. If we repeat the aftermath of all the traveling and togetherness of Thanksgiving it’s only going to get worse.

I genuinely don’t know what worse will look like or how we will accommodate that. For example, where I live–right now–there are no beds in the ICU left. And Christmas hasn’t even happened yet.

There are many who have been sacrificing all year to help stall the spread. It’s time to join them. It’s not just about how you or I personally will be affected by the virus. Odds are in your favor and mine that we will live through it, no doubt about that, but a virus is just that–it’s viral. The less we associate with others, the less it will spread. It’s not just about whether or not you personally will get through it, it’s about slowing that spread by minimizing contact. Please, even if you feel healthy, don’t go to a place where you are cooped up with people you don’t live with. In a very real way, people you don’t even know (and maybe some you do)–the future temporary residents of E.R.s and hospital hallways and rooms and ICUs–are depending on you for help.

I’m with you. My little family has been living a strict life of isolation for over 280 days, since March. The only other person who has been in this house since then was a handyman who came over to fix a broken sink. We all stayed on one side of the house while he made the necessary repair. Other things broke this year that we can live without. They remain broken. We will get them fixed later. When we do venture out, we mask up. We socially distance. We get takeout. We haven’t had a sickness in our house–not even a cold–since February. But even given that, for the week and a half leading up to Christmas, we have doubled down on our isolation and are not venturing out except for walks. Why? Because we’re giving our kids back their Grandparents for Christmas. They’ve been doing the same–zero contact with anyone on the outside world, not even with masks and social distancing–for 10 days as per CDC guidelines. To ensure we are all virus-free. And if you and your family are taking similar measures, then by all means, enjoy this time of year together.

But if not, please, stay home.

I’m not looking for a gold star here. I’m not telling all this because I want credit for “doing my part” or whatever. That would be dumb and I don’t care about that. I’m only speaking specifically of our efforts to encourage you and demonstrate that you would not be alone should you choose to isolate this Christmas. And it’s not just us, I have many friends who are making similar efforts, quietly and reverently with a sense of duty and purpose.

I’ll say it again: You would not be alone if you do this thing with us.

Please, let’s help keep the numbers down and give the hospital back some beds, together. Let’s stay home Christmas morning. Let’s skip the parties and family meals. Let’s do what we can not just for ourselves, but for others. It’s a sacrifice, and I get that, but you’re probably used to that, if you think about it. That’s what being a person of faith or a responsible citizen of the world is all about, right?

Huh. Sacrifice and Christmas. Can’t get much more in the spirit of things than that.

Merry Christmas, everybody. Let us pray–and do our part–for a Happy New Year.

Why I #GiveThanks

Recently, Russell M. Nelson, the Prophet and President of the church I belong to, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, issued a challenge to the world to spend the next week giving thanks each and every day, and post our expressions of gratitude on Social Media.

Millions of people took up the challenge. What happened was a week of almost total positivity on social media feeds and it was an incredible (and needed) change of pace.

Here, then, are my contributions:

Friday, Nov. 20

Stepping up to the challenge to #givethanks this week. I am eternally grateful for my wife who, in every other, more likely alternate universe probably ended up with someone else. I don’t think there was any ball during our pre-marriage gamesmanship I did not fumble. How she saw through my bad plays to the devastatingly handsome and athletic husband I mostly became, I’ll never know. But it fills me with gratitude. (Also, she has the best smile in the world. I should take lessons.)

Saturday, Nov. 21

Today, I #givethanks for the girls who turned my world upside down in the best possible way by making sure the second half of the life I’ve lived so far is the extended gender studies lesson I probably needed. I would do anything for them.

Sunday, Nov. 22

Say what you want about a pandemic, but DO NOT knock week-in-and-week-out church attendance in pajamas. Grateful for my Creator. Grateful for billowy pants that feel like they’re barely there. #givethanks

Monday, Nov. 23

Today, I #givethanks for hair. Not because I have any, but because I once did and I didn’t appreciate it enough at the time. Hair really is the whipped topping on the marvelous sundae that is our bodies. Or maybe the cherry. Or the nuts. The point is: my sundae stops at the ice cream now and I’m grateful for the time when I got to have toppings.

Tuesday, Nov. 24

I have to #givethanks for creativity. I went from wanting to be a banker or a lawyer as a kid, to creating comics, writing books, and making movies as an adult. I don’t know why I always seem to walk the wrong path first, but the brush clears away eventually and I am happy to take off running.

However, I don’t run alone. Many, many people support these efforts and have either helped or currently are helping me get these works made and out into the world. And so, I am grateful also to my creative partners: Th3rd World Studios, Cedar Fort Publishing & Media, VidAngel, Stellar Lense Productions, Tremendum Pictures, Pen Name Publishing, Oops Doughnuts Productions, Samaco Films, and the many, many individuals within and without those organizations who are so talented and with whom I am so fortunate to work.

Wednesday, Nov. 25

No matter how brilliant the light—the fortune, the love, the joy, the strength, the blessing, the peace—we can never truly comprehend or appreciate it without the dark—the poverty, the hate, the sadness, the temptation, the trial, the conflict. One without the other is meaningless, so I #givethanks for both.

This may seem like some weird, not-great stock photo, but I actually took it in Venice, Italy about 4 years ago.

Thursday, Nov. 26 (Thanksgiving)

Finally, I #givethanks for faith and science. For that which can give us confidence we will see an end to this pandemic, and for that which tells us how.

#givethanks for the many inspired women and men who are working tirelessly to heal and to prevent. My hope is that they are properly supported and that the rest of are making the small sacrifices necessary–masking up, social distancing, taking time away from family and friends (especially during the holidays), and prayer coupled with fasting–to stem the tide of this thing and be rid of it once and for all.

There are spiritual laws and there are natural laws, and He is the master of them both. I am so, so grateful for that understanding and the peace that comes with it. 

I gotta say, I super enjoyed doing this. I make it a point to be grateful every day, but thinking harder about it and all putting these things out there like this gave them even greater resonance and importance. My contention is that even in the most dire of circumstances we have much to be grateful for, and if we can focus on those things, we might not find our burdens changed, but they will be lifted.

The Lack of Difference Between Patience and Faith

I’ve come to believe that patience is more than just a feature (or, as I once regarded it, a bug) of faith. It’s pretty much synonymous.

I can’t think of any past exercise of my faith that was not also a sweaty, when-will-this-be-over-and-how-has-it-only-been-60-seconds workout of my patience. Sometimes, the wait is brief. But not usually, and however long the question is the same: can we wait upon the Lord? Do we have what it takes to endure his better timing?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, especially this year. 2020 feels like I’m back in college. I know it’s going to end, and I know this pandemic/studying constantly thing is going to end, but it doesn’t feel like it most of the time and I’m not sure the reward at the end will be worth it.

But it was and it will be. My college degree reaped great rewards and my life settled into a groove afterwards that was never again so frenetic and busy and packed. We will all get our groove back, I’m certain of it. Even while it doesn’t always FEEL like it.

(The groove may be slightly worn and the needle might skip a bit, but that’s okay. It would be weird if we returned to an old record only to find it shiny and new. Maybe we’ll discover a new hidden track we didn’t know was there before.)

And I say all this while acknowledging that 2020 hasn’t been THAT bad for me and mine. Have we been quarantining for over 240 days thus far* in what sometimes feels like a futile and disrespected effort to do our part to minimize the effects of this virus and keep it away from ourselves and Cami? Yes. But, the upshot? Not one of us has been sick since February. Not even a sniffle.

Have we suffered disappointments, job and opportunity loss, and distance from family and friends? Yes. But, the upshot? Other opportunities have come our way (there’s the matter of a little movie I’m putting together, among other things) and we have found joy in being together in new ways. See: Erin’s amazing ability to celebrate every ten (now twenty) days.

Has there been death? Yes. And there is nothing not tragic about that. While I am grateful that we have not been personally so affected, I am saddened, just like all of you, that so many have been lost.

With the announcement of vaccines this week and a return to purple status, a little bit of light seems to be shining between the rocks of the 2020 cave-in, showing us hope and also how much of the collapse we still have to clear to make our way out. The time for patience/faith is not yet over. And that’s okay.

Every good thing I have ever received has been on a time delay. Never when I wanted it, always when I needed it. I believe all things can be for a higher purpose, even the very worst things. But only if we do not with our bitterness shut down that possibility.
I say none of this as a minimization of suffering, only as an argument in favor of faith; in favor of having the patience that we will get to that point of understanding if we so choose.

That’s my prayer: that 2020 is not a pothole to dodge on the way to the next thing, but ultimately a hard-yet-enlightening detour we can be glad we took to fully appreciate the better sights ahead.

*Minus, for me, the two weeks I spent in The Chosen set bubble of tight COVID restrictions and precautions.

Intellectually Dishonest Thieves, Flag-Waving-and-Desecrating Robbers

If you knew the way I voted, you might question whether I’m a good person, a moral person, or even a Christian.

If I knew the way you voted I might raise my eyebrow at how that vote could be consistent with being a good person, a moral person, or a Christian. Whatever you profess to be.

But, that’s dumb. Judging and making enemies of each other based on votes cast is dumb and unproductive and puts us on a dark road where intellectually dishonest thieves and flag-waving-and-desecrating robbers lie in wait.

I’m as frustrated as anyone else by the head-shaking bad takes on the happenings of the day that come across my news feed, but I’m increasingly convinced that no good comes of letting those bad takes–that propaganda, the disinformation and opinion and incendiary headlines of it all–seep into our hearts and minds and curdle into a hatred that turns monstrous those we would otherwise call brother and sister.

My prayer is always–but especially here at the end of the count–that we can recognize that we all have far, far, far more in common than we have different, and that those commonalities can be points of unity between two people with even the most vitriolic of takes.

There is hate on the one hand, and on the other there is the charity and grace we can extend towards each other even while we disagree with each other. Whatever wisdom I have attained thus far tells me this: the choice, when you boil it all down, really is that simple, and anyone who claims otherwise is victim already to the great lie that complicates with ifs and ands and buts the greatest teaching the world has ever known:

Love one another.

Start there, and the path ahead becomes clear.