Homeless Santa  

Posted by Brock Booher

Here's a new, edited, and improved version of a Christmas story I wrote a few years ago. Merry Christmas!

Homeless Santa

My four-year old daughter tugged at my sleeve and pointed. “Look Dad. It’s Santa!” she whispered.

I looked up from serving soup in the homeless shelter and saw an old man with a bushy white beard holding a soup bowl. Except for the tattered army jacket and his unkempt appearance, he did look just like jolly old Saint Nicholas, minus the jolly part.

I smiled and filled his bowl with hot soup. “Did anybody ever tell that you look exactly like – ”
“Santa Claus?” His face was blank. No jolly laugh. No twinkling eyes. No ho, ho, ho. “Yes, because I am Santa Claus.” He stared back at me in a way that made feel transparent.

I glanced down at my daughter and saw her chewing at her bottom lip. “Don’t worry,” I said trying to comfort her. “He’s not the real Santa. The real Santa lives at the North Pole and is a jolly old elf.”

The old man stared at me with the same deadpan look. “Ho, Ho, Ho,” he said as he took his soup and moved on. I continued to serve soup to the others, but couldn’t take my eyes, or mind, off of the Santa look-alike as he sat by himself and ate his soup. When I finished serving, I sought him out.

“Feel better after the soup?” I asked.

“Like a bowl full of jelly.” He stared at me with that same blank expression.

I fidgeted in my seat wishing that maybe I hadn’t initiated this conversation. “You know, I am sorry that life has been hard to you, but you didn’t have to burst my little girl’s bubble. She still believes in Santa Claus.”

“Well, I am Santa Claus.”

I chuckled. “I know you look like Santa, but – ”

“Santa Claus is just a fictional character to bring magic to Christmas,” he said. His voice had changed and I could tell that he was mocking me, along with everyone else who makes that statement. He pointed his finger at me and continued. “You see, you don’t even believe in me, and yet you lecture me on not bursting your little girl’s bubble?”

My face flushed and I looked away.

“Most people don’t believe anything they can’t see or touch anymore,” he said. “How can you believe in the miraculous birth of the Son of God when you can’t even believe in Santa Claus when he’s sitting right in front of you?”

“I guess you’ve got a point,” I mumbled as I stood to go. “Merry Christmas.” I stood and walked away with my tail between my legs.

Over the next few days the conversation with the homeless Santa troubled me. What should I do? How could I help? He was right, I didn’t believe in Santa, but I did believe in helping my neighbor. So when my boss asked for Christmas party suggestions, I got an idea.

I told everyone at my office about my encounter with homeless Santa and asked if we could sponsor him. We could take up a collection to buy him new clothes, help him find some temporary housing, and a buy him few Christmas presents. In return he could come play Santa at our company party. Everyone loved the idea.

I spoke with the director of the homeless shelter and made all the arrangements. Everyone contributed generously and the company matched our efforts. We got him new clothes, shoes and a winter coat. We found a small private shelter and paid for three months rent. We bought a month’s worth of food and stocked his shelves. We were all excited about helping him as the day of the Christmas party arrived.

It was a wonderful party. Homeless Santa had ditched the tattered army jacket and cleaned up his beard. He came dressed for the part with the traditional red suit, black boots, and bag full of toys. He was the life of the party as he gladdened hearts with his rosy cheeks and his hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho!” He had a magical touch with children, and my daughter beamed as she sat on his lap. By the end of the night, we all believed in Santa Claus.

As the party finished and we gave him our gifts, he cried openly at our generosity. We joined him, but they were tears of joy. Everyone called it the best Christmas party ever.

That Christmas Eve, my daughter and I put out milk and cookies for Santa and waited together by the fire in my big leather chair. Of course, we both fell asleep long before the clock struck midnight, and missed our chance to see the jolly old elf. But the next morning the cookies and milk had been replaced with a note.

“Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.”
Thank you for believing in me!
Santa Claus
(P.S. I moved back to the North Pole.)

The Enemies of Success  

Posted by Brock Booher

Have you ever felt inadequate? Maybe you felt like you didn’t quite measure up, or like everyone else was better than you at some particular task. You looked around and saw yourself lacking when you compared yourself to others. I feel that way every time I sit down to write something new. The task humbles me and makes me dig deep within myself for courage. Self-doubt is the enemy of accomplishment.

Have you ever bragged about your abilities or felt so confident that you were smug in your approach to a particular challenge? Maybe you even believed that the task was so far below your abilities that you did little to prepare. You almost felt insulted that someone with your talents and skills was asked to perform such a menial thing. I know what that feels like as well. It takes a great deal of arrogance, even hubris, to write something intended to help others. Arrogance is the enemy of excellence.

A few years ago I was at friend’s house for a get together. His son had just returned from two years of missionary service for the LDS Church in Peru and we were celebrating. It was heartwarming to see a son reunited with his family. The celebration also sparked a nerve with me, a lurking emotion that had niggled at me for years. It reminded me of how lost I felt when I came home from my time as a missionary. Those awkward feelings of grief and loss mingled with the joy of returning home are a strange combination that lingered with me for years.

Many young men and women in our church serve as missionaries. Currently over 85,000 young men and women are serving worldwide. It is truly an amazing statistic when you think about all the things these young men and women could be doing with their lives. No matter what your religious beliefs, you have to admire their dedication and sacrifice. But what do they do after that sacrifice? Who do they become? How do they transition back to normal life after such incredible missionary experiences?

I was venting my feelings of thirty years ago to my friends at the missionary homecoming. I complained that we (meaning the members of the Church) don’t do enough to help theses fine young men and women transition to a successful life after successful missionary service. They must have sensed my anguish and concern, but were much quicker to see a solution than I was. My friend Brent (a coach by profession) looked at me, shrugged his shoulders, and said, “You’re a writer. Write a book.”

His candid, no-nonsense approach to the problem hit me in the face. Like any good coach he didn’t just nod his head and commiserate with me. He assessed the situation and then told me what I needed to do. His call to action stuck with me, and I thought about the idea for weeks. It hit me with incredible energy, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I felt prompted to move on it, but self-doubt crept in. After all, who was I to write advice for returned missionaries? I’m not an expert. I have no credentials. I pushed the task aside for almost two years feeling inadequate and unworthy to accomplish it.

Perhaps I felt unworthy of the project because my writing journey started out of sheer arrogance. I waltzed into the world of writers with overconfidence and arrogance only to be humbled by the craft. I know firsthand the cost of hubris. I understand all to well the price for arrogance. I certainly didn’t want to approach such an important project with pride driving me forward.

The idea lurked in the back of my mind but from time to time it would thrust itself into front and center, but each time my feelings of inadequacy pushed it back into the shadows. My wife Britt kept prodding, almost nagging, me to get busy and write it. She knew I could do it. She saw my passion for the topic. She believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself.

Eventually, I was asked to work directly with the young men and women returning home from missionary service, and I could no longer ignore the promptings. With the faith of my wife behind me, I started the project. It went slowly because of my internal battle between self-doubt and arrogance, but eventually I finished something I deemed worthy of sharing with others.

In an effort of improve the product, I sent the manuscript to my publisher. I hadn’t published any nonfiction, so this was uncharted territory. I was humble in my approach (not necessarily the best approach for building confidence in your publisher) and offered to work with anyone else who might be writing something similar. I still felt that surely someone else would be better qualified to publish this advice.

When Emily from Cedar Fort emailed me and offered to publish the book, all those feelings of inadequacy came crashing down on me again. I was terrified that my efforts would not measure up. My deadline was also very tight. This time, instead of running away, I reached out to my family and friends and asked for their specific prayers. I swallowed my self-doubt, along with my arrogance, and with heaven’s help I finished the manuscript on time.
To say that I wrote this book would be a lie. I put it together, but I pulled from the wisdom of friends, family, and Church leaders. I also felt the guidance of the Spirit through the process.
Both self-doubt and arrogance can destroy any successful endeavor. Both are distortions of the truth, like some caricature drawing that exaggerates a particular feature to the point of dominance. Both are false emotions that can keep us from becoming the best we can become, or from doing the best we can do. If we are to become or achieve anything worthwhile we must deal with these two enemies of success.

It has been over thirty years, but I can still remember that empty feeling I felt when I walked off the airplane after my mission. I hope that this book will make it easier for all the wonderful young men and women coming home to deal with the transition from full-time missionary to faithful returned missionary.

*** Return and Continue With Honor will be released on February 10, 2015 and will be available Deseret Book, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and other book retailers.

Time Flies  

Posted by Brock Booher

It would an understatement to say that I have been busy, but that still is no excuse for not posting a blog last month. I recently participated in a writing exercise using Storymatic, a group of cards that are used as story prompts. I chose the following random cards - 1) Write the story in the 1st person 2) Pilot 3) Someone who just got out of prison 4) Unopened envelope 5) Overdue apology. With those cards as my story prompt, I wrote the following short story. Enjoy.

Time Flies

It took exactly forty-seven seconds for the prison door to slide open. After spending six years, four months, fifteen days, ten hours, twenty-three minutes, and thirty-nine seconds behind bars, you would think I learned patience, but you’d be wrong. I learned to wait. Patience is different than waiting.

My lawyer was there to greet me with his politician’s smile when I walked out a free man. “How does it feel to be exonerated?” he asked.

I stared right through him for five whole seconds but didn’t answer the question.

He had never served time a day in his life and nothing I could say would make him understand. On top of that, his efforts didn’t set me free. While he cleaned out my savings account, I gave information to the Feds until the case broke, and they arrested the real criminals. Now he wanted to stick me in front of the cameras and bloviate about saving innocent people. I never even smiled for the camera, and saved my energy for more important matters.

When the press conference was over, he pulled me aside and put on his courtroom face. “She’s here in the US now. She wants to see you Jack. She wants to apologize.”

She was Beatríz – chocolate skin, brooding black eyes, and even blacker hair. She told me she loved me. She told me she wanted to marry me. I believed her, right up to the point when she betrayed me.

I wanted to see her too, but not to apologize.

I jumped in a cab and headed for the rendezvous location so I could hear her apology, or something like that. The sky was a crisp blue with puffy white clouds, the perfect kind for cloud chasing, just like the day they hauled me to jail and clipped my wings. All I ever wanted to do was fly, but jailbirds don’t fly. They flap their wings in the yard like some fat chicken, but never get off the ground. Beatríz had betrayed me, and her betrayal kept me on the ground for six long years. Now it was time for payback.

The cab pulled up and I saw her sitting in front of the Starbucks with sunglasses on. She stood when I got out of the cab, and for a moment I thought she was going to rush over and hug me. I think the look on my face stopped her.

She took off her sunglasses when I walked up. “Hola Jack, it’s good to see you,” she said.

I stood there with my arms folded and didn’t say anything.

She reached out to touch me but drew back her hand. “I’m very sorry.”

I glared back and sat down. I was trying to decide if a Starbucks cup could be used as a deadly weapon. Several other people sat at nearby tables engrossed in their phones. I wished I had insisted on meeting somewhere private, someplace without cameras, or witnesses.

She sat down across from me and slid a cup across the table. “It’s dark roast, just the way you like it.”

What did she know about what I like anymore? How could she possibly think that an apology over a cup of coffee could set things right between us? I ignored the goodwill gesture and asked, “What do you want?”

She looked at me with brooding eyes.  “I know you’re angry, but it really wasn’t my fault.”

“Angry? Not your fault?” I began to mimic her pleading voice from six years ago. “Por favor, Jack! It’s just one suitcase. My cousin is in the hospital and needs these things. You don’t even have to take it to him. Just get it on the airplane and a family member will pick it up in baggage claim. Please!”

I was happy to see a tear roll down her cheek. My rage searched for a way to extract revenge on the spot, but six years of learning to wait kept me from it. I waited at least a minute for her to speak.

She wiped a tear and said, “They threatened to kill my family if I didn’t convince you to carry that suitcase for me.”

I knocked the cup of dark roast off the table and stood. “So you chose your family over me? I was expendable? You didn’t trust me enough to let me in on the secret?” I leaned forward and grabbed the small metal table at the edges gripping for something to control my rage. “You stole six years of my life!”

I stood there grasping the table and clenching my teeth as hot breath surged in and out of my nose. She put her face in her hands and began to sob. I wanted to somehow extract six years of pain in sixty seconds. I noticed that a man sitting nearby stood and began recording with his phone. I glared at him, like only a convict can, making him cower and mind his own business. I released my grip on the table and sat down again.

I checked my watch. I had waited six years, four months, fifteen days, twelve hours, forty-one minutes, and eighteen seconds for this encounter. The exact moment of my revenge had arrived and in the end it felt more hollow than an empty prison minute. I looked up at the sky, the delirious burning blue, and longed to escape the heavy emotions that had kept me on the ground. I realized that revenge would only serve to ground me again, and I could never spend another second as a jailbird or another minute unable to fly. The moment I had waited for was not to be filled with revenge, but with release of the past that weighed me down like sandbags on a hot air balloon.

I stood to go. “I don’t care anymore. I just want to get on with my life.”

Beatríz slid an envelope across the table. “He loves airplanes. He has your eyes and looks just like you.”

My pale hand trembled as I reached out for the sealed envelope. A knot formed in my stomach and worked its way up my throat as I tore it open and revealed the photo. I cradled the photo in my hands and gawked at the almost six-year old face of my son. He was holding a red toy airplane.

Time flies. My son had been alive six years the first time we went flying together. It was worth the wait.

Forsythia Bush Deterrence  

Posted by Brock Booher

Deterrence is a state of mind brought about by the existence of a credible threat of unacceptable counteraction. (Oxford Military Dictionary)

I was a rambunctious and energetic boy, and consequentially, didn’t want to sit still in church.

One Sunday a family friend watched my mother deal with me as I became irreverent and disruptive in church. Each time I began to get noisy, irreverent, or disruptive, she would simply open her purse and show me something. Every time I looked inside her purse, I settled down and behaved as I should. The family friend saw my mother repeat this process several times during the church meeting. Curious, he approached her at the end of the meeting and asked her what she had in the purse. My mother smiled and opened her purse. There, on top of her wallet, keys, and various other personal items, was a small switch from the forsythia bush in front of our house. My mother understood deterrence in its simplest and most effective form.

My parents were good parents, in fact, exceptional parents considering that they raised ten (mostly normal and functional) children. (We are all normal and functional most of the time.) Our house had a large yellow forsythia bush right outside the front door, and when we misbehaved, we had to march outside and pick a switch from that bush that would then be used as the instrument of our punishment. As one who went to the bush several times, I tried various sizes in an effort to find the size that wouldn’t hurt. I can tell you from personal experience that size did not matter. They all hurt.

Now you might think such punishment harsh, but in reality they were in good company. The Bible explains that Jesus cleansed the temple with a “scourge of small chords” (a whip) and overturned the moneychanger’s tables. In one of the rare displays of physicality, Christ reinforced the law with physical force and moral momentum. By the way, He cleansed the temple a second time right before he was crucified. It seems that Christ himself was passionate about obedience and was not afraid to use physical restraint to extract it. My parents were in good company.

Don’t misunderstand me, they didn’t beat me or abuse me. I think they chose the switch because although it stung, it didn’t do any permanent damage. It also allowed them a bit of distance since they could punish me without striking me with their own hands. Afterwards they would always wrap me in their arms and let me know that they loved me. It was discipline with purpose, not just punishment for punishment’s sake.

With my own children, my wife and I took a slightly different route. We used restrictions and “time outs” more often than the physical punishment. (Maybe because we didn’t have a forsythia bush.) We set standards of behavior that we expected to be followed. When a child chose not to follow that standard of behavior, unfortunate consequences followed. Corporal punishment was less prevalent than when I was raised. We also tried to discipline with purpose, not just punish for punishment’s sake.

I will be the first to admit that I lost it a few times and either said or did inappropriate things that I later regretted. Unlike Christ, who remained in control of his emotions and maintained the moral high ground as he used physical force, I sometimes punished in the strong emotion of the moment. I don’t admit to being guilty of abuse, but of punishing in anger instead of love, or of simply gratifying my bruised ego instead of trying to teach. Of all my sins, those moments of poor parenting still bring me the most pain.

I don’t know all the facts surrounding the Adrian Peterson child abuse case (Or any of the other cases in the media right now). I don’t know if his punishment exceeded what would be considered reasonable. But I can imagine how difficult it must be for both the parent and child to have their relationship judged in the court of public opinion. It will be a tremendous wedge in their relationship for years to come, no matter what the outcome. My heart goes out to the both the father and the son. Ironically, Peterson lost another son (from another relationship) to abuse at the hands of another man just a few short months ago. He is no stranger to the results of abuse.

Parenting takes courage. Sometimes that means the courage to discipline. Sometimes that means the courage to swallow your pride and ego. Sometimes that means the courage to allow your child to feel the pain of their actions as artificial or very real consequences. Sometimes it means having the courage to show mercy and love. It is never easy to know what type of courage is needed day to day.

Parenting also takes a great deal of love. Sometimes that love comes in the form of patience. Sometimes that love manifests itself as restraint. Sometimes that love is shown as much by NOT extracting punishment as it is by punishing. Love doesn’t leave any permanent damage, even when that love is shown through discipline.

Just as Christ was passionate enough to use physical force in the extreme cases, He also admonished that anyone guilty of abusing children would be better off at the bottom of the ocean with a millstone around his neck. It seems that even He was intolerant of domestic abuse.

I have no permanent marks on my legs from all those forsythia switches. I hope my children bear no permanent marks (emotional or physical) from the punishments I meted out. I do hope, however, that the discipline they felt at home will be a deterrent that will keep them from unruly, and rambunctious behavior as an adult. I hope that it will deter them from illegal or immoral behavior. Without proper discipline at home, a society will soon find itself unraveling at the seams and plunging into utter chaos.

However, I certainly hope that the threat of jail time, loss of income, and becoming a pariah of society are successful deterrents to those who would abuse spouse or children. My mother wouldn’t stand for bad behavior. We, as a society, shouldn’t stand for it either.

Yellow Forsythia Bush