Sunday, August 20, 2017

Let Go

I have a confession to make—I’m a horrible blogger. But in my defense, why write when you’re pretty sure no one is going to read it? That’s why it caught me completely by surprise when a good friend of mine, Russell Smith, shared a link to my blog on Facebook the other day. Thank you, Russ! My blogging dreams had sailed off without me, and truthfully, I’d completely forgotten about them. So, maybe this is just for you my friend, or maybe someday others will read it too, but either way, you got me thinking about the last few months, and I realized…I have quite the story to tell! J
Once upon a time there was a stubborn guy who was very impatient…well, that sounds boring. How about this: Two men walked into a bar…no, that has nothing to do with my story. Oh I got it! I’ll start with a completely different story, and then somehow connect it to why Tiffany and I are now homeschooling our children in the forest and living off crawdads and pollywogs. Now that sounds a lot better!
I heard a story once, the truthfulness of which may be hard to prove. I tried asking Siri to verify the details, but we’re having a hard time communicating at the moment. Anyway, I researched the suggested method that produced the outcome of this story (I’m leaving it vague on purpose so I don’t spoil the ending), and I found the facts to be supportive of the claim. So if you’re not willing to take this completely on faith, at least believe me that the flavor of this story is good even though I’m not sure where the ingredients came from...maybe it was Mexico.
The story goes something like this: An individual was once flying a small plane (sorry, can’t give them any kind of identification or someone will find me biased), and under a series of unfortunate events became trapped in a most unfavorable situation. (This is a great example of how my brain works. Can’t recall the details…only the end.) Before the circumstance could be reversed, the plane began to spin out of control and plummeted to the earth. (This is where the story gets really good.) Of course, the natural response for anyone would be to jerk the yoke back and forth, stomp on the pedals, and scream at the top of their lungs, but as the plane fell out of the sky this person had a strong impression to just let go!
This story reminds me of a time when unwise decisions and uncontrolled speed collided to lift my old step-side Ford onto two wheels…. Now, I won’t say who was driving, but like the plane in this story the situation with my truck got a little out of control. Without revealing incriminating evidence, I can tell you with certainty that the last thing a person wants to do when fear grips the heart is to let go of the wheel. But in defiance of common sense and natural selection, the pilot of the small aircraft decided to listen to the prompting and let go of the yoke. This is when a miracle happened! The plane suddenly quit spinning and the pilot was able to pull it safely out of its nose dive! This is the whole point I’ve been trying to get to for the last three paragraphs. Oh, and do you want to learn an interesting side note? Well, you’re getting it anyway. I found from my research that, not only should you throttle back and let go of the steering device when your small plane begins to spin out of control, you should also press the rudder pedal that is the most difficult to push! Cool, right?!
  So, now to splice this awesome story to mine. When Tiffany and I left the farm in January, it felt much like leaving paradise in a plane with no charted course and no final destination. Oh sure, there was a great thrill as we gained momentum and lifted off the ground. We were going to see the world! But as our family started pushing through thick clouds of doubt, I suddenly realized…I didn’t know how to fly a plane!
Facts started fogging up the windshield. I’m thirty five years old with little schooling, limited skills, and no career plan. My hands began to quiver on the yoke. When I turned to look at my beautiful wife she was ginning at me nervously, but her eyes were full of terror. Our five kids were bouncing happily in the back seats as they stared out the windows and watched our plane begin to spiral toward the earth!
Let go.
Trust me.
…If you haven’t figured it out, this is a metaphor. We didn’t really leave the farm in a plane, but our life, like a plane ride through a hurricane, has been filled with great turbulence since we left Snowflake. Most days it’s extremely difficult to not reach out in panic when we start spinning out of control, but every time we listen to that still small voice and let go, without fail, peace fills our hearts and the plane quits spinning.
Sometime around April, Tiffany’s sister Stephanie asked for some help to run the kitchen of the Wiltbank family’s guest ranch, called Sprucedale. It was only going to be for a few weeks in June, and we both agreed it would be a fun experience for us and the kids if we could get away from the valley heat before the kiddos started school again in the fall.
The last week before the summer break began the temperature in Mesa rocketed past a hundred degrees. Before the weekend was over we had our Suburban and Corolla packed to the ceiling with clothes and kids, and we were headed outta town. We stopped in Snowflake for a few days to help my family with the annual branding. It was so delightful to be back…and so painful to leave…but our hopes were still afloat as we looked forward to a few weeks of fun at Sprucedale.
When you leave Snowflake, heading south, you first pass through the sister town of Taylor, and a few miles later a beautiful green valley opens up to your left dotted with small farms and fish ponds. This is Shumway. As you climb out of this stunning scene, shaggy-bark Junipers quickly give way to towering Ponderosa Pines. By the time the pavement takes you through Show low and Pinetop/Lakeside, the forested foothills have led you, almost unknowingly into the White Mountains.
Few roads have views as breathtaking as Arizona Highways 260 and 273. If you ever have the privilege of taking this drive, sooner or later you’ll find yourself passing the deep blue water of Big Lake. If one is able to overcome the temptation to stop and fish, a mile or so later one will find the dirt road responsible for transporting many yearning hearts to Sprucedale Guest Ranch.
When we crossed the bridge at Black River the kids were starting to get antsy, and by the time we turned onto Wiltbank Road they were ready to jump out the window. Winding our way along Beaver Creek, we finally rounded the bend that hides Sprucedale from the world. The historic log cabins, main lodge, and old barns seem to capture a bygone age of timeless simplicity. With smiles on our faces we crossed over the cattle guard.
We knew the work would be hard, but we had plans to play even harder. A few weeks would pass so quickly, and we wanted to enjoy every minute. At the time I was still working hourly on the train crew, but the commute from Sprucedale to St. Johns is much shorter than from Mesa, and the drive is stunning, so it worked perfectly into our plan.
Within a few days of being at our summer getaway we heard news that Chip Eisley, Sprucedale’s head cook, had submitted an application for a job to run a restaurant at a large power plant, and if he got the position he would most likely not be able to finish the season with Sprucedale. This was heavy news for us. Not that heavy is bad, we just realized the consequences of that possibility would also affect our lives. About this same time my boss called to say I’d been put on salary! The cross hairs for the heat seeking missiles on our little family plane were suddenly lining up on an unexpected target. A few weeks later Chip got the job and Tiffany was asked by her brother Whitney to take Chip’s place as the head cook. We closed our eyes, and pulled the trigger.
 With help from family we packed up the few belongings we’d left behind at my mother-in-law's place, and began to look for a house in St. Johns. Because my job is now more stable Tiffany and I both thought this small town would be the best place to live once the summer was over. Payments for a house are usually less than rent, so with great excitement we started looking for some dirt to sink our roots into. Three different times we tried to buy a home. Once we were even sighing the papers to submit a bid when the house was pulled out from beneath us. Finally we took a step back, took a deep breath, and let go again. God had been trying to help us, but we were so excited to finally have a destination for our lives we were ready to jump out of the plane without a parachute! But for some reason God didn’t want us to exit the plane that way, so when our plane stopped spinning, once again we grabbed the yoke and waited for further instruction.
We didn’t have to wait very long. When Tiffany’s older brother Billy heard we were unsure what we should do he asked if we’d stay at Sprucedale through the fall to help him cook for some big game hunters and a few family reunions. In all her years of helping with Sprucedale, Tiffany has never stayed at the ranch through the fall but had always wanted to. She started to get really excited. Then my mother-in-law, Esther, asked if we wanted to go in with her to build a cabin, and I started to get really excited! As we contemplated our new options we realized if we stayed we’d also be able to homeschool our children, and we’d been talking about trying that for years. God had provided a way for us to achieve multiple dreams in one safe landing, and we would’ve missed it had we jumped from the plane prematurely.
Even as I write this I’m stunned to look back and realize how much God has been in our life. When we let go of the farm, He gave us wings. When we were willing to let go of “our” best plan, God showed us a far better direction to fly. And when we finally let go of our personal desires, our loving Father in Heaven provided a way for us to fulfill some of our greatest dreams. Through all our experiences in the last six months, every time we released the steering of our lives and turned to the Lord, He has always pulled us out of a dive and taken us to greater heights.
Most of the summer my role has been to entertain the kids and keep them out of mom’s hair, and what an absolute joy it has been! I’ve never played more ball and pushed more swings in my life, and the sweet memories our family has accumulated this summer are piled high.
The last two weeks Tiffany has been shorthanded because most of her kitchen help had to go back to school, so I’ve had the opportunity to put on an apron and let my wife boss me around. It may sound like self-inflicted torture to you…but, honestly, they’ve been the best weeks of my entire summer.
It stunned me to see how hard this amazing woman works. The kitchen, main lodge, and laundry room are difficult enough to just keep clean, but on top of that Tiffany cooks the best meals I’ve ever tasted, and usually they’re for a ranch full of people! It was a very humbling experience to be outworked by my wife. I’m serious! When I wanted a break, she kept going! It didn’t matter if she wasn’t feeling well or if her feet were killing her, she always worked until the job was done. This experience alone increased my love and appreciation for this amazing girl ten times over. I am, without doubt, the luckiest man in the world. When this life is over, if she still feels I deserve her as my companion, my eternity will be sweet indeed!
As for the rest of life, I’m still working on the train crew three days on, three days off. It’s fun driving a train and uncoupling cars every now and again, but I sure love the time this job allows me to write. I’ve started my third book and hope to have it finished before the end of the year, but I’m in no hurry. The best part of writing at work is when I get to close my laptop, clock out, and go home. Yes, for now Sprucedale is home. For how long? We’re not sure. But we know when the next storm comes, and life starts to spin again, if we let go and rely on the Savior, He will lead us safely to our next step in life.


Friday, April 21, 2017

Blessings From Heaven

You never know when the windows of heaven will slide open and release the blessings of God, but life would sure be miserable if they didn't. For me, this week it's been pouring, but only after an extremely difficult drought.

It took two months, but Mitchell and I finally finished recording "Airlis" as an audiobook. We hit some bumps along the way but persevered and eventually made it through. As with any difficult path in life, I learned some valuable lessons, like: You should probably listen to yourself BEFORE you record the ENTIRE book, just in case something's wrong….

Going over the final audio check, about three-fourths of the way through, I couldn’t handle anymore and shut it off.

I was utterly sick. My inflections were out of control, I spoke too fast, and I hated the sound of my voice. The despair was overwhelming. I’d just wasted two months of my life and a large chunk of our savings. I’d hit bottom a few times before on this insane roller coaster, but this was a dark day.

Once again, my sweet wife scooped me off the floor. After making sure I was still alive, she slapped me hard!—No she didn’t, but I could tell she wanted to. She patiently tried to convince me it wasn’t as bad as I thought and begged me to get another opinion. That night I pulled up a few of the chapters I thought were the worse and played them for her. That’s when she really wanted to slap me. J

“There’s nothing wrong with this! It sounds great!” Her beautiful blue eyes were filled with encouragement…and a little exasperation. Oh, how I love you, Tiffany. It wasn’t a cure-all compliment, but it did lift me enough to try one more time. I went to bed with the decision that, either way I’d finish listening to the whole thing before I hammered down judgment.

The next morning I put in my earphones and started cleaning the car. When the audiobook concluded a few hours later, with tears in my eyes, I realized, It’s not perfect . . . but it’s good enough. I submitted it to ACX the following day.

That was over a month ago. Even though I’d finally agreed to let it go, that didn’t mean it would meet all the requirements in the eyes of the professionals, and I was asked to wait patiently for approximately 10-14 business days…. The suspense was killing me!

In the meantime I knew my fluffy dreams weren’t going to pay the bills. It was time to stop playing and get back to work . . . but, what if I could play and work at the same time! Now that would be a dream devoutly to be wished! If only I could find a job that would allow me time on my computer while I was at work.

Have you ever heard the phrase: Be careful what you wish for? It correlates with an amazing scripture in the Book of Mormon that reads, “…And as surely as Christ liveth he spake these words unto our fathers, saying: Whatsoever thing ye shall ask the Father in my name, which is good, in faith believing that ye shall receive, behold, it shall be done unto you.” (Moroni 7: 26)

Long story short, a good friend of mine, Jeff Greer, happened to know of a job working on a train crew that often had hours of down time. He said it was one of the most boring jobs in the world, and I became so excited! Lol!

So I started praying. The company wasn’t hiring at the time, but they agreed to take my application and keep it on file in case something opened up. We moved to the valley, and I started writing my next book “Kirus” and recording my audiobook. Two months later, about the same time I submitted “Airlis” to ACX, I got a phone call from a guy named Jon Richardson asking if I was still interested in the train job! I started work the following week!

Do you doubt that God is a God of miracles? I don’t. Not anymore.

I’ve learned a thing or two about the Lord’s tender mercies in the last few months. I want to share with you something very personal. It’s part of a blessing I received when I was fourteen, called a Patriarchal Blessing. If you’re not familiar with what this is, look it up on These are sacred blessings given to individuals concerning who they are, who they were, and who they might become. One line of my blessing reads, “Sacrifice brings forth the blessings of heaven....”

This is the secret ingredient!!

If you want to turn yourself from a fat panda into a kung fu warrior, you have to climb the stairs—you have to pay the price! It doesn’t work to merely ask and then hold out your hand. You have to be willing to give the Lord all you’ve got if you want to achieve something impossible with His help!

Yesterday, the audiobook version of “Airlis” passed all requirements to become available on Audible, ITunes, and Amazon. Two weeks ago, at work, as I sat waiting on a train in a coal yard, I finished the rough draft of “Kirus,” the adventurous sequel to “Airlis!”

Whether or not any good comes into your life from the blessings God has showered down on me…well, that’ll be between you and the Lord. What I do know is this, our Father in Heaven can and will bless each one of us!

Ask Him! Seek Him! I promise you will not be disappointed. Praise be to God for blessings from heaven!


Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Following My Heart

Since my first blog a few months ago our life has been thrown in a blender and turned upside down. But like my favorite dessert from Dairy Queen, we didn’t hit the ground and things have only gotten sweeter!
By the time I finished “Airlis” last fall a strange phenomenon had taken place in my heart. I can’t recall a specific turning point, but gradually I began to realize—I have a passion for something besides farming.
Unless you know me, or have been in my shoes, you may not understand why this is such a shocking revelation. Maybe this will help. I’m the second of eight kids. There are four boys and four girls, and I’m the oldest boy. We’re the fourth generation in our family business of farming and raising beef cattle. Traditionally, the farm has been passed from oldest son to oldest son, and my whole life I dreamed about raising my kids the same way I was. In my eyes there was nothing to compare to the priceless opportunity I was given. I knew I was uniquely blessed, and thanked God often for my amazing life.
I was happy and comfortable driving my tractor and riding my horse. But the very things that brought me peace of mind and joy to my heart also provided the perfect atmosphere for a little spark of a dream to be fanned to life by hours of daydreaming.
That was the tiny flame that nearly burned down my house and marriage, but as my wife and I celebrated with tears when we realized we’d made it through, little did we realize the heavy consequences that’d soon come from striking that match.
I knew I was in serious trouble when, days after completing the three year project of publishing my first novel, I started dreaming about my next book. Hadn’t I learned anything? I didn’t dare tell Tiffany…at least not at first. Somehow, miraculously, we survived that wild fire in our life, but the coals were still too hot for me to throw on a dream full of gasoline.
A few weeks passed. Some nights I’d lie in bed for hours plotting my new adventure only to flip the lamp on at 4:00 am to write down my dreams of what happened next. Before “Airlis” made it from my editor to Amazon I had my next two books outlined and was anxious to dive in head first. My mind began to battle between two titanic desires: To write, or to farm?
I knew I couldn’t do both. It was too difficult, and I didn’t think our family would survive another barn burner. It wasn’t fair or right for Dad, either. To receive the precious blessings of farm life you have to be willing to sacrifice a lot, and while I was writing I found myself looking for excuses to run home early so I could finish my next chapter.
It was the hardest decision I’ve ever made.
After much fasting and prayer, I decided to follow my heart.
Tiffany was beyond shocked when I told her I felt we should leave the farm. Life was amazing. We lived out of town on the ranch, and our nearest neighbor was over a quarter mile away. We had a beautiful home with a large front yard surrounded by old trees. A few years ago I built the kids a super awesome tree house and put up a tire swing. The front porch spanned most of the house and was a perfect place for the porch swing I’d made Tiffany early in our marriage. We would sit in that swing and watch our kids run and build forts and chase rabbits. We raised cats, dogs, chickens, turkeys, ducks, goats, horses, and cows! We played tag on the tramp till daddy got too tired, then we’d lie on our backs and gaze at a million stars…and we left it all behind.
My eyes tear up every time I revisit the sweet memories we made there as a family.
But the hardest part of it all…was telling Dad. He and I worked side by side my whole life. We are more than father and son. We’re best friends.
I was helping him install his new dishwasher. It was just the two of us. I knew it was the right time, but it still took me over an hour to find enough courage to open my mouth.
Of course, it nearly gave him a heart attack. Looking back now, I probably should’ve eased him into it, but I’m not very good at sugar coating things. Might as well spit it out and be over with. He has since recovered, somewhat. The shock wave hit all the family pretty hard, but instead of them flattening our tires and holding us at gunpoint, we felt nothing but extreme love and support from everyone. We needed that. We still do.
So we packed our meager belongings and moved to Mesa, Arizona. Dad offered my position to my brother Ross, and I’m overjoyed that he and Brookelyn now have the sweet opportunity to raise their kids on the ranch. I know it will bless their lives forever.
For now we live in my mother-in-law’s house, which is half the size of our old one, and we’re cramped in a tight neighborhood. Life has definitely been turned upside down. But like my good friend Jared told me, “Change can be good, if you let it be.” You will never know if you like a new flavor till you try it, right? Well, the more we try, the better this new life tastes!
Our three oldest kids started going to a new school with cousins they rarely saw before. Within a few days they all made new friends and are genuinely enjoying life. Tiffany is near most of her siblings, now, and loves seeing close friends she lost contact with. She started exercising with her sister, and even though she won’t admit it openly, sometimes before she nods off to sleep she’ll let it slip that she’s really enjoying our new life.
That’s good enough for me.
If the story ended there it wouldn’t matter how I am doing, but to quench the thirst of curious minds, I’ll give you a sip. Me, I’m content. I know I’m where I’m supposed to be, and the Lord is providing opportunities for us all to grow. I followed my heart, and I’ve been writing my next book “Kirus” with enthusiastic vigor. I love not feeling guilty for taking away from my family or the farm. I’m looking for a job that’ll allow me more flexibility between family and writing, and until I find it I’m enjoying every second of free time I have exploring a new world.
Following an impression I also decided to record “Airlis” as an audiobook. I found a great guy named Mitchell Brown who was willing to record and edit my awkward attempt to narrate my first book. Thankfully, he’s patient with my errors, and with his help I feel we’ll be able to make a product worth buying. Hopefully it’ll be available soon on Audible and ITunes. Like most of my last few months, this is another leap of faith without a glimpse of what I’m jumping into. But if you don’t jump…you’ll never know if you can fly.


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Becoming An Author

I jokingly tell people, if I would've known then what I know now...I never would've become an author! Being raised on a farm and ranch under the unique supervision of "real" cowboys, I've been cursed with the mentality that you don't start somethin' you don't finish, and "it's better to go twice a laughin' instead of once a cryin'."

Grandpa Ira Willis used to tell us this all the time, and even though Da passed away over four years ago, his wisdom and hard work ethic still flows thick through all his kids and grandkids. We love and miss him terribly, but we find comfort in knowing we will see him again someday.

So, once I decided to jump into the swirling pool of authorship with it's unknown depths and dangers, I knew I'd either sink or swim. Doggy-paddling my way out was not an option. That was around July of 2013, but it was far from the beginning of this crazy journey.

If I had to pin point the moment when this all began, I would have to take you back to my English class my freshman year of high school. 

I hated English. Not because I didn't enjoy writing, but it seemed, over the years, every time I turned in an assignment I would completely miss the concept the teacher was looking for. "Re-do" became the dreaded words of my writing experience. It was frustrating! I'd pour my heart into each assignment only to get slammed for it. But one day my freshman year, Mrs. Lyman called me to her desk. Now, I can't remember exactly what was said, but I can get pretty close.

"This isn't what I asked you to do." Her demeanor was uncharacteristically solemn as she held my paper in both hands. Surely my gaze dropped as my heart sank. "But...." The word was soft and foreign. Not the customary "re-do" I was expecting. 

I looked up confused. She studied my face for a second, and then held the paper out. I grabbed it, but it didn't release from her hand. Now she really had my attention. Staring at me with her serious eyes, she said, "I want you to finish this story."

I was flabbergasted. She liked it?

Without cracking a smile, she let go of the assignment, and said, "I'm serious! I want you to take some time this summer and finish this story. It's really good!" I'm still not sure what the assignment was supposed to be, she never said a word about doing it over, but what I had done was write an introduction to a story about my life. It was the highest compliment I'd ever received, and I'll never forget it.

Needless to say, I didn't finish my story that summer. I'm a farmer, remember! Summers are way too busy, and at that age, when your not working you're playing! Time came and went, but that little spark never died.

Eventually, I graduated high school, served a mission, finished a two-year college degree, got married to the girl of my dreams, and settled comfortably behind the wheel of a big green tractor. Life had finally allowed me time to reflect on that old spark. Gently, I began to fan it with ideas, plots, and characters that I felt would make my story the most enjoyable to share. 

That's when Airlis was born!

Years of day-dreaming passed. Then one day in July, I gathered my courage, and Tiffany pushed me off the cliff....

She really did! I wouldn't have done it without her support. She knew I'd fantasized about it for years, and finally got tired of me doing nothing about it! I know she regrets it now, because for six months she lost her husband. I would come home after work, open the computer, and write for four to six hours. It was not the most intelligent way to do it, I admit that now. Our marriage suffered, the kids suffered, and when I was asked to accept a calling in our church that required a high level of commitment, I realized it was time to put Airlis away.

I was discouraged. The story was only halfway completed, but I couldn't do it anymore. In my frustration I was about to throw it in the trash, but luckily I married an amazing woman. She threatened if I did, she'd beat me with a stick! Okay, there were no sticks involved, but she did say she would be very upset, and that was enough incentive to just put it on a shelf for a while.

Two years went by. Every time I thought about the project I had started but never drove me nutts! The only way to avoid going crazy was to force those thoughts into that box on the shelf and lock them away. Eventually, I thought about it less and less until it became merely a shadow of a hope.

Then life changed again. I was released from that calling. Life fell into a comfortable balance. Christmas came and went, and all was well in Zion. Then one sunday in January 2016, Tiffany was out of town visiting family and I'd gone to church by myself. While sitting in the back row of the Gospel Principles class I had a soft impression,  Finish the book.

When I called Tiffany later that evening, to my surprise she was extremely excited! We had learned a few things from the first go round, and decided, if I could find a better balance, we could make this work. Flames rekindled, I pulled that dusty box off the shelf.

Within a few days the fire started sputtering. I couldn't work all day and write all night and not expect to suffer some kind of consequences. In a desperate move, I went to Dad. You see, three of us run the family business now: My dad, my brother Ira, and myself. January is a slow month on the farm, but I was still nervous to ask Dad if he'd give me a few weeks off to finish my book. He and Ira were both very supportive, and their sacrifice became part of the mountain of sacrifices it'd eventually require to complete just one simple book.

I did it! In the process of two and a half weeks I finished Airlis! Slap a cover on it and put it on the shelf!

Bwahaha!!! Oh, that's funny.

That was the first part of February of this it's December. Hundreds of thousands of hours have been spent by me and a plethora of others to refine, reproof, rewrite, reread, repent, and then restart the process over again since that day in February.

After months of this gruelling process--most all of this work being donated/sacrificed freely by others--I decided to hire editor Irene Hunt. I'm sure she had many sleepless nights debating why she had agreed to take on this project. With her help, not only did Airlis begin to shine like an actual book, but she also helped me improve as an author.

NOW it's finished! My very talented cousin Cassie is painting the cover as I write, and within a week or two Airlis will be on the shelf!

Words can't express the gratitude I feel for everyone who helped this dream become reality. I hope you know how much I love and appreciate each one of you. Especially my dear wife, Tiffany, who sacrifices all, everyday.

As for you, "reader of another man's journal", :-) it's my hope and deepest desire that your life is touched in some small way by this story and all who made it possible. God does bless our lives with miracles. Open your eyes and you'll see, they happen everyday!