Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas, One and All

The shopping is done. The food has been eaten. The goodies all delivered.

The snow has fallen, and the night sky is now bright with stars. Somewhere in that night sky flies a jolly man -- a saint, the embodiment of generosity -- and his small team of reindeer and a sleigh full of dreams.

Good will descends upon the world like a gentle dusting of pure, white snow.

Ralphie has his Red Ryder, two-hundred shot, range model air rifle. Clark Griswold has his Christmas bonus. It snowed in Vermont. Ebenezer Scrooge has been redeemed, and I have an appointment, presently, in Bedford Falls, with the George Bailey Family.

One by one, exhausted by the anticipation, the children fade away -- for a few brief hours, at least.

The wassail is simmering. The leg lamp is lit. Bing Crosby sings quietly in the background.

In a manger; in the churches; in the cities and the countries; in the fields and the hills; from ocean to ocean, and peak to peak; in the warmest of homes and the darkest of streets, shines an Everlasting Light.

Merry Christmas to all of you.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

If I Cannot Bring You Comfort, then at least I bring You Hope

Sometimes in life, something comes along that just stops you in your tracks, and makes you step back, and take a long look at your life. It can be a victory or a tragedy, a triumph or a loss.

And then sometimes, it just comes out of nowhere.

This weekend, I was hired to take Santa Claus pictures, at my company's children's Christmas party. For four hours I sat in front of a wonderful Santa and Mrs. Claus, snapping pictures, as a line of children (some eager, some...not so much) filed past, to tell the Jolly Old Elf how good they've been this year, and to whisper into his ear their greatest hopes and desires.

And then Alicia tapped me on the shoulder.

Alicia was a sixty year old Mexican woman, and an employee of the hotel where our party was being held. She was one of the workers attending to our needs. She told me she had always wanted to get a picture with Santa, and she asked me how much I would charge to take a picture of her with Santa and Mrs. Claus. Not being one of our employees, she wouldn't have access to the photos that I was taking. I asked for an email address, and told her I would just send it to her -- no charge.

Alicia stood quietly to the side, as the rest of the children passed by.  And then it was her turn. She climbed up on the stage, and stood next to Santa Claus, pointing to his giant "Santa" belt buckle, and smiling big.

I snapped the picture.

And then things got profound...

She looked at Mr. and Mrs. Claus, and said "Now my dream has finally come true."

And then she began to cry.

And I haven't stopped thinking about that moment since.

The thing about hopes and dreams is that they're a bit different for each of us. Every child that spoke to Santa Claus that day, was full of hope, and each hope was a little different from the child who went before. The other thing about hopes and dreams is that we all have them. Hope is what pushes us forward. Hope changes us. Hope makes us better.

Our hopes and dreams are the things we treasure the most, and sometimes there's no understanding them, but that doesn't make them less real, or less important. Each of the kids, who sat on Santa Claus' lap that afternoon hoped for an abundant reward for a year of good behavior. My greatest hopes are for my family -- that they'll be happy, that they'll be successful, that they will love their life, as I have loved my own.

And Alicia hoped, for sixty years, to take a picture with Santa Claus.

I don't know why that dream went unfulfilled for so long, or why it mattered so much, but I know it did. I saw that in her eyes and her tears, and I was deeply touched to be a part of helping that hope become fulfilled.

Hope is powerful.

And now, twenty-four hours later, as I sit in the darkness of my home, lit only by the soft light of the Christmas tree, with quiet carols playing in the back ground, it occurs to me that Christmas is about a lot of things. It's about joy. It's about peace on earth. It's about new life and it's about redemption. But really, it's about hope for each of those things.

And it was hope -- the greatest hope of all -- that was born, in that stable, under that star in the desert sky, on that silent night, long ago.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Photostory Friday: The Light Which Pierces the Darkness

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Hosted by Cecily and Lolli

It's one of my favorite moments of the Christmas Season: we turn off all of the other lights in the house, and light up the Christmas tree, for the first time. The house is bathed in reds and greens and golds. 

The lights of Christmas are soft and subtle. Candles and stars. They are different from other lights. They seem to illuminate only what is important. They are not exposing, they are revealing. Everything looks prettier, lit by Christmas lights. 

In the early morning hours of December 13, she dons the simple white robe and red sash. Upon her head is placed a crown of candles. She leads a procession of younger children through the darkened homes, bearing light and nourishment, to those within.

She is Santa Lucia. The Queen of Light. 

In Sweden, December 13 is St Lucia's Day. Legend says that Lucia was a Christian martyr of the fourth century. How this beautiful, Sicilian Saint (and in predominantly Lutheran Sweden too) came to be associated with the far, northern lands of Scandinavia, is something of a mystery. But there may be a clue in her name -- Lucia. It is derived from the Latin word Lux, which means Light. 

In the ancient Julian calendar, December 13 was the night of the winter solstice -- the end of the long journey into darkness. The return of the light. Today, in the those northern latitudes, darkness comes in the very early afternoon. 

Light is precious. 

My family is of Swedish decent, and we began keeping the tradition of Santa Lucia when Jordan, my oldest (and inheritor of all the Scandinavian genes) was very small. We modify it slightly. Traditionally, Lucia carries coffee and saffron buns, but we're not coffee drinkers, and have you seen the price of saffron?!? So, it's usually hot chocolate or wassail, and cinnamon rolls or cookies, at our house. 

We also like to tie it in to the larger celebration of Christmas, as well. After all, isn't that really what Christmas is all about:

The Light, which pierces the darkness. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Ave Maria

Behold, the Handmaid of the Lord

Mary. A very common name. 

Scholars tell us that in ancient Judea, one in three Jewish women was named Mary, or Miriam in Hebrew. They also tell us that she was young, likely very young. Jewish girls were often married by the age of fourteen. A common woman, with a most uncommon calling. 

I think about Mary a lot this time of year. Though she is a constant presence at Christmas time, our focus is often -- and understandably -- on the Savior. But, what of this most uncommon of ordinary women? In the two millenia since the birth of Jesus, Mary has become the object of much veneration. She is Ave Maria, the Blessed Virgin. She has been a saint and a strength to, literally, billions of people. And rightly so, she was the vessel, the most worthy of women, chosen to play the most important role, in the most important birth in history. What a woman she must have been! But, I think, sometimes, in the adulation of Mary, we lose sight of her humanity. And Mary's humanity is, after all, her most important contribution to the life and mission of Jesus Christ.

What was it like to be pregnant with a Holy Child? What was it like to give birth to the Son of God? What was it like to be the mother, and to raise -- for she did more than simply give birth to -- the Savior of all mankind? Only one woman can answer these questions, but I'll tell you what I think...

I think carrying the Child of God in her womb was hard. I think her back hurt, from carrying the weight of a child inside of her. I believe she was anxious and nervous, this being her first pregnancy. I think Mary was probably ready to have the baby, long before the baby was ready to be born. Mary was the mother of at least seven children, and I believe that the birth of Jesus was as painful, and difficult, perhaps more so, as the births of her other children. She was highly blessed of the Lord, but that never means the path will be easy. 

I wonder how aware she was of the shepherds' visit that first night. Was she there to receive them and hear their miraculous story, or was she so overwhelmed and exhausted, that some of those things were a little blurry? I wonder if she ever saw the star, or if being up, often, during the night, to feed her new baby, made those hours of sleep precious, and left little time for stargazing? I think she checked on Jesus constantly as he slept. I believe that the baby Jesus cried. I think he cried when he was hungry. He cried when he was wet, he cried when he was hurting. I think, sometimes, like all other newborn babies, he cried for no apparent reason at all. And, through it all, Mary did what all mothers do -- she fed him, she changed him, she burped and bathed him, she cuddled and sang to him. As Jesus grew older, it was his mother who nurtured him, who cared for his bumps and bruises, who wiped away his tears and kissed his skinned knees. 

Mary knew what few others knew then, that this was the Only Begotten Son of God. His father was divine, but half of his inheritance was mortality. He could suffer. He could die. And, to fulfill his destiny, one day he would. But, from his mother, Jesus would learn of strength and compassion, and of unconditional love. Those are the gifts of a mother. 

When she was told by the angel, of the honor that was to be hers, Mary's response was humble and unequivocal -- "Behold, the handmaid of the Lord, be it unto me according to thy word."


I believe, because of the responsibility that she was asked to bear, that Mary must have had some foreknowledge of the mission of her son. But, I wonder if she imagined that she would live to see Jesus heal the sick and raise the dead? Did she know that he would be hated, that he would be betrayed by his friends, that all manner of indignity would be heaped upon him? Did she know that she would live to see the fulfillment of the Atonement? Could she have imagined, as she held her tiny boy that first night in Bethlehem, that three decades from then, she would watch the life spill from her son, upon a cross; and then see him reborn, as a glorified and perfect being? 

God, our Father, gave his Only Begotten Son, as a sacrifice, so that each of us would have the opportunity to return to His presence. Jesus Christ suffered greater than anyone in history, so that through his blood, and by his atonement, we might all be cleansed of sin. 

But, I hope that we never forget that Mary, the mother of the Son of God,  also gave her firstborn son, for the blessing of all mankind. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

The Vote

I generally shy away from politics on this blog.

It's not that I don't have political opinions, I do -- quite strong opinions actually -- I just don't usually feel the need to go to battle over them, and sharing your political opinions in social media is a one way ticket to Hyperbole-ville, with a side trip to Ignorant City, via the Inanity Highway.

No thanks.

But this post isn't about politics, it's about government. Self government, to be precise.

I don't always, or even usually, like the direction that this country is headed, but I've come to one inescapable conclusion -- it's our fault. And that's a good thing.

It's a good thing because it means that the government is not Them...it's still Us, and if it's still Us, then we can still do something about it.

In the great American experiment in self government, the greatest gift bequeathed to us by the architects of our government is not the Declaration of Independence -- that was just a letter of intention. It's not the Bill of Rights or the Constitution -- they can be altered. It's not the two party political system...it's just not, and if I go any further with that explanation, I'll probably burst a blood vessel.

The greatest gift to a free people is the right to vote for their own government. Self determination is the most fundamental human aspiration.

You may not like where this country is, or where it's headed -- I know I don't -- but, it's still within our grasp, to correct the course.

We're still the City on the Hill.

We're still the last best hope for mankind.

As long as we have the vote, and exercise it.

Tonight, I'm thankful for the vote.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Aaron's Kids

I write about my family a lot. They are my greatest source of happiness and fulfillment. But tonight I direct my thoughts to a different family. Tonight I'm writing to Aaron's kids.

All nine of them.








Sam and Emily, 

Your dad is my best friend. I've known him, literally, longer than I can remember. You know all of this.

Aaron is closer than to me than a brother. Outside of my own family, no one's happiness means more to me than his.

So, why am I writing to you instead of him? Because there is something that I want you to know about your father:

He's a lucky man.

I know the man you see, when you see him, is tired. He's worn out. He works hard, and he pays a price for it. Sometimes he's grumpy -- that's just a dad thing.

Sometimes he's loud -- that's an Aaron thing.

Raising kids is hard, the number doesn't matter. It's the most difficult thing we can do, but there is a great payoff for that kind of sacrifice -- unconditional love. And I have no doubt that you know that your father loves you unconditionally...what he does, he does for you.

But this isn't about him, this is about you.

What I want you to know is that your father is happy.

God gave me a gift a long time ago -- to look into people's faces, and to see their honest emotions -- and as I looked into the face of your father, as we took these pictures, in spite of the chaos...regardless of the awesome spectacle that is the Ball family, in nearly every setting...there was a happiness and a contentment on Aaron's face, that I think maybe even he wasn't aware of.

And, what I say of your father, I mean equally for your mother. Look at them together, and take note. As they look at you, they know the worth of the treasure before them.

Life and choice and experience write their greatest truths upon our countenances, and when I look into the face of my best friend, I see a lot of life and experience, but mostly I see a man who is happy.

And you are the reason.

So, tonight, Malia, Taylor, Alaina, Jacob, Dallin, Lincoln, Charlie, Sam and Emily, I'm thankful for you.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Wonder of It All

In nearly every picture that I have of Jordan, as a young child, her eyes are as wide as dinner plates. I swear the kid never blinked, her eyes were as big as she could make them. I used to imagine to myself that it was because she didn't want to miss a thing.

One of the unexpected joys of being a parent is seeing the world through the eyes of your children. It's all new. It's all fresh to them. And, it's all very big.

Children don't have the tools or the experience to tell them that what they are seeing is not all that it seems. They're not sarcastic or cynical -- no one is born that way. They take the world at face value. They believe and they wonder.

I was constantly amazed at my children's constant amazement. I didn't realize how far down the jaded path of life I had wandered. But, when my children saw how blue the sky was, I saw once more how blue it was. When they laid in awe under a blanket of stars, I laid down next to them, to see what they were seeing, and what they were seeing was that the world was a wondrously immense place, and that they, small as they were, were an important part of it.

You've always heard it, and it's true -- wonder lives in the eyes of children. Children don't dream of being accountants, or lawyers -- they dream of being big things...superheroes, astronauts, underwater explorers. They want to go and see and do and touch and build and stand in awe of their own accomplishments.

Sometimes things really are impossible, but I've come to believe one thing:

Wonder + the impossible = Amazing

Wonder is why we went to the moon.  Wonder is why diseases are cured. For myself, wonder is what brings the view finder to my eye, and my pen to paper. It's why I treasure my role as a father. Wonder is being excited to know that we don't know everything -- to open your eyes as wide as you can, and to know that tomorrow something may just knock your socks off.

And when wonder gets you out of bed in the morning, every day has more possibilities than impossibilities. The world is beautiful and amazing and deep and broad, endlessly immense and impossibly small.

That's the lesson that those big blue eyes taught me sixteen years ago, and that I've taken to heart every day since -- let the world amaze you, and then don't be surprised when it does.

 And tonight, I'm grateful for the wonder of it all.

Gratitude: Balance

I'm tempted to be thankful for the extra hour I'm going to have to sleep tomorrow morning...but I think I can do better.

When the world gets crazy, the temptation is to get crazy right along with it. In a big way. Following the Pied Piper of Insanity is the path of least resistance. And if you don't find some way to balance the forces pushing and pulling you in every direction, those forces will bend you into an unrecognizable form.

I know how to work, and I know how to play, and I'm grateful to find meaning in each experience.

I know how to fight and I know how to forgive, and sometimes you have to do both.

I know the power of words, and I know that sometimes you give them, and sometimes you receive them.

I know that the heart matters as much as the head.

I know that balance is the key to everything...and without it, you don't walk, you can't run, and you'll never soar.

But when you find that balance point, between what you need and what you want, between what  you know and what you feel, between what you do and what you say...between what you hold on to with all your strength, and what you let go of with out regret...you'll find that those forces will propel you, and you will walk, and then you'll run...and then you will take flight.

Tonight, I'm thankful for balance.

Friday, November 1, 2013


I spend a lot of time, lately, thinking about what's wrong with this world.

It's not hard to do. It's a mess.

But it's not me.

I'm a glass half full person. I'm an optimist. I love life. My world is a colorful, vibrant, happy, cacophonous place...which is just the way I like it.

I like the shadows too, but the shadows of life are to accent and define the scene...

But lately, the shadows are spreading an overcast of gloom over the picture, and I'm tired of it. Something is missing in my world, and I think I know what it is.

It's been a long time since I really considered how blessed I am and, more importantly, how grateful I am for those blessings.

As I sit here, in the darkness of my kitchen, and begin to ponder the things I'm thankful for, I can't remember all those things that are wrong with the world. They can't compete on the stage of my memory with things like kisses and whispers, smiles and unicycles, love and loyalty, friendship and faith and things that last forever.

I resist adding to that list, because I look forward to exploring it over the next month. Gratitude covers a multitude of pain and shortcomings. It's an act of mercy and grace. I want to know what I'm thankful for.

I need to know.

Monday, September 9, 2013

FYI (if you're a teenager -- boy or girl)

Dear teenagers everywhere,

I was online the other night, and noticed that many people have opinions about who you are, what you wear and how you behave. Many other people have opinions about the opinions of the first group of people. Some want to blame you for the evils of the world you live in. Some want to absolve you of any responsibility for the repercussions of the choices that you make. Most just want to bicker and argue, and if it wasn't about you, it would be about something else, and if they get their say, then I get mine.

I have two teenagers of my own. One boy. One girl.

Like nearly all of you, my children enjoy spending time online -- less than many, more than others. They post pictures. They message friends. Sometimes they say stupid things. Did you know that once you send anything out into cyberspace, it is virtually impossible to make it go away? Did you also know that the world is bigger than your 500 Facebook friends?

People can see what you're doing.

People you have never considered.

People you don't want seeing your pictures.

People you don't want learning intimate details about your life.

If you are online, you are exposed. Know that, and be smart.

Now let's talk about your responsibilities...

To the boys: You have a long road ahead of you. The world has decided to make you into guys, instead of men. There is a storm of immorality coming, and it's going to hit you full force, and if you are not prepared, it will sweep you away. You will be flooded with images. You will be pummeled with suggestions. You will be beaten down with temptations. And you will be responsible for how you respond to this storm.

You will be told that women are objects. You will be persuaded to see them as base and lustful creatures, existing to satisfy your own selfish desires. You will be told that this is just natural. You will be told that a real man gets what he wants. He takes what he wants. And you will find that the thing about want is, it's never satisfied.

And when you give in to these dark desires and temptations (and make no mistake, they are dark) you will sell your manhood for a pittance, and your soul for a base and insatiable hunger.

It doesn't have to be this way. You are a noble being. Your potential is endless. Be the man that your mother believes you to be. See the women in your life as they really are -- daughters of God. Never take advantage of them. It doesn't matter if you want to -- you don't have the right.

It doesn't matter if you think you've been invited -- for your sake, and hers, walk away from that situation. Stand up and be a man. A real man. Become the man who prizes virtue. Become the man who stands for something. Be your best self and expect better of those you surround yourself with, and watch as they rise to the challenge.

Change the world, one good man at a time.

To the girls: I write to you as a man, and a former boy, and the father of daughters. That's the only perspective I'm capable of. Listen carefully, because the path will be no easier for you than it will be for the boys.

The world is going to tell you that you are only worthy of love and affection if you fit a certain mold, if you look a certain way...if you behave a certain way. You are not an object. You are more than your body. You do not exist to fulfill someone's lustful desires. It may be that some day your greatest achievement and happiness will involve a man, but it will be as a partner and a companion, not as a plaything to be tossed aside, when something better comes along.

Know that you have a choice in the way the world sees you. Please be aware that it matters what you present to the world. Don't be duped into believing that perception is beyond your control. You can't advertise one thing and sell another. The world does't work that way. Don't listen to the voices that absolve you of any responsibility for the way others see you. That can be a fatal mistake. You will be perceived as you are presented. It's harsh and it's true. For your sake, if for no one else's, learn this lesson, and be wise.

And when it comes to the boys, you have a big choice to make. You can help them become the men they should be, or you can leave them to fend for themselves, and to fight a battle that, sadly and honestly, they don't have a good chance of winning -- not without some help. Please choose to help them. We are losing men of character at an alarming rate.

It's not your responsibility to make them better, but it is your opportunity. I don't believe that they can make it without you. Demand better, because you deserve better. Demand a man who can hold to righteous principles. Demand a man who can look you in the eye, and know that he is worthy of you in every way. And watch as the boys in your life become men worthy of your notice.

You are the source of life and so much that is beautiful in this world. Be noble and radiant. Find the best within you, and give that to the world.

And finally, to my own teenagers: I remember what it was like to be where you are, but not with total recall. Life and time have changed my understanding and my priorities. If I ever seem not to understand you, I promise it's not for a lack of trying. Come to me, and we'll talk. No one loves their children more than I love you. Be the people we are raising you to be.

In fact, be better than that.

You won't regret it.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

100 Words: Good riddance...

Dear Sarcasm and Cynicism,

I'm tired of you. Both of you.

You tell me the world is ugly, but I see beauty. You tell me people are selfish and unkind, but I'm surrounded by smiles and helping hands.

You wound, unprovoked.

You don't laugh, you mock.

You were once razor sharp tools, but overuse has turned you into blunt instruments. You're dull.

If you cut down a field, but don't replant, and regrow, then all you are is destructive.

And you've consumed too much oxygen, please go away, and take Irony with you.

I don't have time for you anymore.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

100 Words: A Few Photography Rules

Fill the frame. 

Be sure to tell the story you want to tell.

Get down with your bad self. 

Life can look radically different, depending on your perspective. 

Tilt the camera.

The camera manufacturer only put the buttons on top of the camera for convenience. 

Leading lines. 

Despite the topsy turvy world we live in, lines are everywhere -- and your eyes love them. Plus they're great for pointing right at the subject of your story. 


Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid over your view finder, and place the subject along the lines, for a more lively image.