Fireside: Overcoming Personal Challenges Using the Atonement

Chad Hymus put on a special fireside Jan 15 in Farmington specifically to bless those overcoming personal challenges using the atonement. The fireside was organized by the Davis County LDS Addiction Recovery Program.

It was the result of a ‘chance’ meeting between our mission coordinators, Kent and Donna Jones and Chad at a restaurant. When he understood the addiction recovery work going on, he gladly offered, “I need to speak to your group.” It was quite an opportunity to have a nationally renown speaker.

Fireside Flyer

 

It is difficult to capture the things I always want to remember from this fireside, but here are a few:

#1 – Be proactive. Listen to the Spirit. When you see someone who needs help, don’t sit and think about it, just do it. Many are called, but few do it.

He used the example of a volunteer from the attendees that he had try to drink from a water bottle without using his hands. At the end he made the point. “I’ve tried to teach about being proactive for 30+ minutes, but I’ve failed to make the point and that’s my fault. Did any of you feel like you should have gone to help him?” Some did feel that, but none did.

#2 – Few people remember what you say but people do remember how you make them feel.  He borrowed a man’s cell phone and had him send his wife a loving text during the meeting. It was all about him thinking of her without the words, “I love you”. He said, “She will feel that love without the words because in his text to her, you will notice he never used the word, ‘I’. When I wasn’t teachable in the hospital, it was all about me. I will never walk again. I will never play ball with my sons. I won’t be able to be a good husband. Get rid of ‘I’ and get to you and us. Small 30-second messages can make all the difference”.

#3 – Change your habits. The number one cause for death among paraplegics is that they get pressure sores. For him, he had to give up boots, which was a big deal because he was an elk rancher. His father explained he would retain water in his feet, so he would have to get shoes of a style he was unaccustomed to, get them one size too big and put them on using his mouth. “It took me 2 1/2 months before I tried, and another 2-months to master it.”

Story:

The day of his accident, he was on his way home to see his son who his wife had just informed him had just taken his first steps. He stopped at his elk ranch to put out a 2500 lb bale of hay, but ignored a hydraulics warning light. “I had grown accustomed to it being okay, so I didn’t refill it.” The hay bale was lifted when the hydraulics failed and came down with crushing force. His wife first thought he had died. At the distress call 5-cowboys, state troopers and a paramedic arrived. 8-men in all released him from the pinning weight, bearing some 360 lbs apiece.

He woke up from a coma some 3+ weeks later and began a difficult recovery. His father at first could help him little until he became teachable. Then a visit from the apostle Neil A Maxwell helped pull him out of his deep stoop he was in with some pointed questions that helped him remove his real paralysis. It is a tragic and inspiring story.

We were deeply touched that he got his fourth child just yesterday – a little boy from Ethiopia that they have been trying to adopt for four years.

Chad Hymas Links:

Facebook

 

Step 7: Humility and the Gift of the Chinchilla

Have you ever wanted something you didn’t deserve?

I had a wonderful science teacher in junior high. He taught a summer course I was enrolled in. He taught many basic scientific principles, but what really caught my fancy were the animals he kept. There was the rattlesnake that he would allow us to feed whenever a child brought in a live mouse. The serpent invoked a sense of respectful horror when observed in action. It was always unnerving to think of that snake escaping.

At the other end of the spectrum were the chinchillas. These friendly little critters were like super-soft puff balls. A cotton-ball feels like sandpaper when compared to a chinchilla. I loved these furry grey creatures and so, when one day the teacher indicated that he would give one of the chinchillas away in exchange for a bag of feed, I could hardly contain my excitement. I immediately pressed my dad about the offer and he agreed to help. In my youthful mind, I didn’t really understand the nature of the exchange. I somehow justified in my mind that my teacher really wanted to see that we could take care of the chinchilla and so he wouldn’t mind if we kept part of the feed. My teacher was a bit disappointed in my offer, but seeing my excitement he agreed to the discounted exchange.

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I was pretty poorly set up for this furry creature. The old cage I had wasn’t ideal, and I soon found that he wasn’t as friendly as I had thought. Being alone in an unfamiliar place in a back shop area made him nervous. He escaped me when I took him out and he disappeared into the debris of the shop… and so ended my days as a pet chinchilla owner. I didn’t deserve the gift because I hadn’t really paid for it, and now I had lost it.

The point of this cautionary tale is that special gifts require special preparation. In Step 7 we ask our Heavenly Father for a gift:

Step 7: Humbly ask Heavenly Father to remove your shortcomings.

This request drove me to my knees in tearful humility. I so wanted this gift, but I am so overwhelmed by weaknesses, but something changed deep in my soul when I asked with my whole heart, holding nothing back.

As I sat in the Salt Lake Temple waiting for a session to begin, I sought guidance in where to read and my fingers were led to section 76. The only scriptures that held my gaze were verses 92-95, where it tells of Celestial Glory excelling in all things, where all things bow in humble reverence and give God, even the Father glory forever and ever… where beings see as they are seen and know as they are known. “And he makes them equal in power, and in might, and in dominion.”

As I pondered a world with perfect discernment of all things, the spirit nudged me to move forward to D&C 78:18

And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom is yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours.

This was given me of the Spirit and felt I was washed completely clean as the day I was baptized. I gained faith that I could eventually make it. I have to watch myself in my thoughts, heart and action (there are more steps!), but it gave me hope.

Seek this gift with your whole heart! None of us want what we deserve! With repentance, this gift that we could never claim on our own merits will be freely given.

Step 6: Change of Heart

A former Japanese boss of mine was fond of saying, “When you think you’re done, you’re half done!”

Perhaps nowhere is this truer than when striving for a change of heart!

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My boss used this saying to dispel a common misconception  that once you have demonstrated a ‘working’ product, it is basically complete and requires little more effort. Life is not so simple. Unless testing is performed over extreme environmental conditions and a device is put through all of its operating states, it will likely contain hidden fatal flaws. And beyond testing, the quality of the parts used and how they are put together also affect reliability.

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So it is with us. If we become comfortable with being marginally functional, we will live with the fears, regret and constant struggle of maintaining a life far below our potential.

When we know we aren’t our best, our spirit cries. Spiritual lethargy is dangerous for any of us, but in addiction recovery it can be devastating.  The first five steps, give emancipating power, providing hope, turning hearts to Christ and bringing one to recognize and confess sins. But changes in behavior are temporary unless one undergoes a true conversion and receives a new heart. This is the sanctifying blessing of true recovery.

Step 6 is the invitation to Become entirely ready to have God remove all your character weaknesses. It is an invitation to everyone to finish the rest of the steps.

Gaining a new heart requires the sacrifice of all our pride and all our unholy and unclean thoughts, feelings and inclinations. A new heart means becoming “a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and become… as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love”. (Mosiah 3:19)

President Benson puts it beautifully (Refer to the ARP Guide, Step 6):

“The Lord works from the inside out.  The world works from the outside in. The world would take people out of the slums. Christ takes the slums out of people, and then they take themselves out of the slums. The world would mold men by changing their environment. Christ changes men, who then change their environment. The world would shape human behavior, but Christ can change human nature. . . .

“May we be convinced that Jesus is the Christ, choose to follow Him, be changed for Him, captained by Him, consumed in Him, and born again” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1985)

 

Here is what the Lord promises:

25 Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness…

26 A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh.

27 And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them.

28 And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God.

(Ezekial 35:25-28)

There is no substitute source for a perfectly healed heart than our Savior, Jesus Christ.

 

 

Step 5: Confession and Spilled Paint

An early need for confession came while my mom and dad were out. Against their wishes, my siblings and I had taken out some enamel paints and were playing with and opening them in the living room. When we spilled the paints, I remember a scramble to conceal the stains. They were pretty bad. Our initial attempt to wipe it up was really just to stay out of trouble by pretending we never did anything wrong and ended up only spreading the paint wider and deeper. I believe we put a box over the carpet near our entryway to hide them.

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We must have looked quite guilty and we didn’t handle our confession well. My parents initially realized something was wrong when they overheard one of us say, “Mom and Dad are going to kill us!” And yes, this was a springboard for further discussion.

Simple, honest confession is powerful. In recovery meetings we joy with those who find addiction losing its grip who speak with a confident smile, but the whole room resonates with the Spirit when a member says, “Actually, it’s been a really rough week… I need help.” The compassion and concern is palpable and weak hearts are touched and remade.

We hold nothing back in confession to priesthood leaders who represent the Lord because we know the Lord held nothing back to save us.

A person declaring bankruptcy must be thorough in disclosing all assets and debts. Anything not in the disclosure is not protected by the bankruptcy and becomes subject to the creditor’s demands. Satan makes these demands, accusing us before the throne of God night and day. It is he who would love us NOT to make a full disclosure because he knows mercy cannot be extended without sincere repentance. He doesn’t want us free of his grip.

Heartfelt confession shows the Lord we are more concerned about what He thinks than what people around us think.

24 Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered?

25 But thus saith the Lord, Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered (Isaiah 49)

One application of this scripture is surely for one who repents.

Confessing what holds us back from the Lord’s mercies breaks Satan’s grip. Waiting only makes it worse… Welcome to Step 5

spilledpaint

Step 4: Undigging the Truth

My parents took a once in a lifetime visit to Greece while I was just a child. While visiting the small village of Davia where my grandfather grew up, they commented that they saw very few basements.  Relatives explained that people are hesitant to excavate because it might turn up artifacts, which could warrant a life and home-disruptive archeological dig. The excitement of finding an ancient treasure was overwhelmed by the fear of what it could mean for their well-being.

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In contrast, Step 4 recognizes that full moral recovery requires fearless and careful digging into the sensitive sediment of our lives. The purpose is to unearth the events and decisions that make up the moral underpinnings of our life until we can see the very foundation stones of who we are. The action required in Step 4 is to write a searching and fearless moral inventory of your life.

This is called the “Truth” step: finding the truth of who we really are.

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The purpose of Step 4 is not to increase our shame, though we will likely find things we are ashamed of. It is to invite the Lord, the master builder to inspect our foundation so that when we find cracks and imperfections we can’t fix (and none of us can alone), we will have His reassurance that He can. Done correctly, a moral inventory will show us not only a moral failings, but also victories through a pattern of tender mercies.

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I once had a dream where my home needed some reconstruction. A son began digging under an existing room to a depth that would create a whole new basement room. Floorboards were torn up in the process exposing warped wood and poor plumbing. I was surprised to see parents, church members, friends, family and my bishop become involved, giving surprising advice and adding their hands to the labor. My somewhat passable house was quickly becoming a beautiful, strong, regulated structure.

Don’t be surprised that if you turn your life over to the Savior, that He will not just apply wallpaper to cover over your sins. He is able to completely remove them and change our very heart.  To those of you who say, like I did, “I have faith in God, that he has all power and can make me clean, but I don’t have faith in me.” I tell you that you are a son or daughter of God and he did not send you here to fail.

Take this step. You will know the truth of that statement and the truth will set you free.

Step 3: Trust in God: Gophers and Guidance

Trapping gophers was not my favorite job. I have no desire to harm any creature, but I grew up on a ranch where my Grandpa was concerned about erosion from the gophers destroying the sheep range, so I was often sent to run a trap line to reduce their numbers. While preparing to go on a mission this was my task. I was paid by how many gophers I trapped and so I asked my Heavenly Father to guide me to where I could be most effective so I could raise the money I needed to be on His errand.

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The impression came clearly: “Go to Davenport.” This was not what I wanted to hear. I prayed again, “Are you sure? Davenport has a pond, but is largely treeless so the ground is sunbaked and dry. I don’t think that is such a good idea.” I knew it was hard to set traps in dry ground. It was hard to dig, and the crumbly tunnels would cave in on the traps. The Lord was patient and once again impressed me to “go to Davenport”. I fought this impression for a full week, before finally moving my trap line there.

It was as I thought: hard work and tough going, but I hadn’t been trapping there many days when I caught an albino gopher. The only one ever recorded on that mountain. It was like the one in the picture, but lacked the faint brownish shading, being completely and uniformly white with pink eyes. For me, it was a sign that my Heavenly Father loved me enough to answer my simple prayer. I sent the gopher to a taxidermist, but was unable to follow up because the week I delayed put me into the start of my mission. The gopher disappeared, but a lesson more valuable than money (and one I’m still learning) remained:

If one seeks the Lord’s help, one’s real intent must be to follow through without delay. God loves us, but will give us a trial of our faith before sending Heaven’s blessings.

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Welcome to Step 3 of the Addiction Recovery Program: Trust in God – “Decide to turn your will and your life over to the care of God the Eternal Father and His Son, Jesus Christ.” Please remember that I call this program a graduate course in Eternal Life Recovery. This is the decision step. Every person needs it.

My favorite quote from this step is from Boyd K. Packer, a man who I feel love and kinship for:

“Perhaps the greatest discovery of my life, without question the greatest commitment, came when finally I had the confidence in God that I would loan or yield my agency to him— without compulsion or pressure, without any duress, as a single individual alone, by myself, no counterfeiting, nothing expected other than the privilege. In a sense, speaking figuratively, to take one’s agency, that precious gift which the scriptures make plain is essential to life itself, and say, ‘I will do as you direct,’ is afterward to learn that in so doing you possess it all the more” (Obedience, Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year [Dec. 7, 1971], 4).

There is an element of hesitation and sometimes fear of overcoming anything and everything that holds us back from the being with the Lord. In addiction recovery, several honest souls admitted the real fear that they don’t know who they’d be without their addiction. “I don’t even know what it would feel like to be normal!” This applies to us all though. Innocent distractions we know are holding us back are not so innocent. “Do I really have to give up this habit I enjoy?”

And so, for those struggling with soap operas, pain killers, excessive passive activities, compulsive social media, romance novels or whatever we find holding us back, re-read Step 1 (honesty), ask “What Lack I yet?”, and then make the decision.

I promise you that whatever you lose will be, “replaced with an abundance of happiness and joy, good measure, pressed down, and shaken together, and running over.” (President Uchtdorf, April 2014 Conference).

Step 2: Real Hope and the Food Metaphor

While living in Japan, my wife’s uncle was diagnosed with liver cancer. The prognosis wasn’t good. In its advanced stage, the doctors indicated he had 6-months to live. But this man had an amazing wife who didn’t give up. She searched all over Japan for doctors who might have a promising cure. She found a holistic doctor who advised him that with a drastic change in his diet and a unique exercise program, he could stop feeding the cancerous cells and restore proper nutrient flow to the properly functioning cells.

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He abruptly changed to a strict diet of unseasoned raw tofu, uncooked ground brown rice and raw leafy green vegetables. No condiments like dressing or soy sauce were allowed. He also began an hour per day special exercise and stretching program and he began to improve little by little. The 6 months passed, and then a year and then 5 years. By that point there was no trace of cancer in his body. It has been over 20 years ago now and he is still doing well today. He continues to work hard and provide for his family at their small family lumber mill, and he continues his special diet, aided by his wife who grows and prepares much of their food.

Real hope involves real change.

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I remember my wife taking dinners to sisters who could no longer get out in our ward. Many were bed-ridden and several were struggling with diabetes. She would take them healthy food and encourage them to try to get up, even for a few minutes. They recognized the need to do so, but in some cases they admitted they still really liked their occasional ice cream and the exercise was just too hard. It is much easier to identify what we need to do than to actually do it and make real-life, permanent changes. Sadly several of these sisters passed away prematurely.

As an addiction recovery missionary, perhaps my biggest worry is that people go home feeling rejuvenated and hopeful without fully realizing that the temptations are still going to come and as one resists, the temptations become harder before getting easier. Real change will begin to overcome real withdrawal. Its hard. Satan won’t give up ground he has taken without a battle.

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Real hope for my uncle came because he honestly confronted his condition and followed through with a life-changing effort. Recovery from poor character traits, bad habits and addictions also requires the whole heart.

Real hope begins with saying, “I’m going to overcome. It no longer matters what others say or do or think. I will change what needs to change in my personal life. I will completely immerse myself in life and living and I will not despair. I will remember that the ‘little stuff’ matters. I will give my heart to my Savior and walk with him.”

Real hope comes knowing that if one fails, they must get up and try again and push forward, knowing the person who fell and got up is stronger than the one who fell in the first place.

Welcome to Step 2 of the recovery program: Hope… to believe that the power of God can restore you to complete spiritual health.

Real hope comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ.

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Step 1: Honesty – and the Chipmunk Cage

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When I was a boy, I wanted a pet chipmunk. My summers growing up were spent on our grandpa’s sheep ranch in the mountains where these incredibly fast and flighty creatures thrived. One day I finally captured one. I was thrilled and excited to give this chipmunk everything it wanted. And so I brought this sad little creature home where I commenced using string and wire to sew pieces of old window screens together inside a wire hanger frame to form a primitive cage. I created a little screen maze on a lower level leading to a nearly completed main cage area. I was so excited to have the little animal enjoy the cage that I let him into the nearly completed cage, feeling that the frightened creature would stay in the far corner while I finished the final panel.

I let the little chipmunk into the cage, excited to watch him navigate the maze. Instead he obliterated the poorly secured maze and in just a second or so burst from the cage with amazing speed. I believe we found his poor mummified body behind a panel in the attic of our home months later.

We must be careful that the barriers we put up to protect us from temptation are not like my cage: incomplete and flimsy. We need to be completely honest with ourselves and our Heavenly Father about what is keeping us from enjoying his presence moment to moment. Otherwise we leave Satan an opening.

Step 1 in addiction recovery (which I prefer to call ‘eternal life recovery’ – as this applies to all of us) is learning to be completely honest. If each of us would truly and honestly look into our hearts and admit where we were not giving a full measure we would become like Moroni, always shoring up defenses and standing up against evil the moment it raises its head. I love this man, of whom it is written:

Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men. (Alma 48:17)

Just as I cannot almost close the gate of my sheep pasture and take comfort in the secure fence enclosing them, we cannot take comfort in prayer and scripture study (great and needed protections!) if with an honest assessment we see we are purposefully leaving something nearby that we know is a temptation.

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23 … we labor diligently to write, to persuade our children, and also our brethren, to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that
we are saved, after all we can do.
(2 Nephi 25:23)

Be honest: recognize the ‘small stuff’ holding us back, and do everything you can to overcome it.

Welcome to the 12-step recovery program.  Step 1: Honesty

A Perfect Offering

A dear sister in our stake who suffered a stroke hand cross-stitched 40 book markers for our pioneer trek youth. These book markers stating, “Follow Me to Zion” were replicas of two found in a pioneer journal, and served as a reminder of the sacrifice the pioneers made.

FollowMeToZion

Because of the stroke, the beautiful markers weren’t perfect. Some questioned if they could be used. Thankfully a trek leader understood that all of our poor offerings made with a sincere heart are perfectly acceptable to the Lord and offered them to our youth, many trading their ‘stitch perfect’ bookmarks for these. After making sure all the youth had bookmarks, I was grateful when the same leader insisted I should have one also.

This is dear to me: beautifully and skillfully done. I keep it now as a reminder that my own imperfect offering may also be cherished by the Lord.

On our pioneer trek, I was the camp bugler. I played taps over the camp at Rock Creek Hollow, site of the Willie Handcart Company rescue. It was near the gravestone memorializing the names of 13 pioneers who died there. I was drawn to the hollow alone twice where I meditated on the offerings made in physical weakness by our pioneers.

There was laid to rest dear little Bodil Mortensen, the  9 year old girl who assisted a 6-year old to make the 27-hour journey to the hollow where Bodil died, still holding twigs of sage in her frozen hand that she was gathering to help kindle a fire.

I shed tears for 11-year old James Kirkwood, who on the same trip found his 4-year old brother Joseph unable to continue. So he carried Joseph on his back, until they reached Rock Creek Hollow, where he too quietly died of hunger and fatigue. Many made similar sacrifices.

Then I think of my Savior, his hands so full of blessing, being pierced for my sake and I am unable to speak. Tears well up freely when I consider what he did for me.  I love Him. I never want to leave him.

He says:

40 Behold, ye are little children and ye cannot bear all things now; ye must grow in grace and in the knowledge of the truth.

 41 Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world, and you are of them that my Father hath given me;

 42 And none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.

(D&C 50)

And so I put my meager offering on His altar, and somehow know he will look at the tapestry of my life, and in the end he will make it perfectly right.

Please know you are not lost. Our Savior has “graven thee upon the palms of my hands” (Isaiah 49:16) He makes imperfect things, perfect.  His is the perfect offering.

A Different Kind of Pioneer: my Greek Heritage.

My Great Grandfather Christos Tsournos brought two of his sons to America where they labored hard in the Magna mines and for a time on the railroad. Christos then returned to Greece with his son’s (my Grandpa Nick Chournos’) entire life savings of $600.

This puzzled us, to think that a father would leave his sons basically stranded in a country to fend for themselves at such a young age. My grandpa was only 16 when he arrived.

A Greek specialist LDS service missionary for family history recently shed some light on this story. When she heard it, she said, “No, you have it all wrong. Christos was trying to save his sons, not take advantage of them.” She told us that at the time Greece was in the middle of a string of wars. The Turks would often attack villages, kidnapping youth and pressing them into fighting against their own countrymen or be killed. When the young men were a recruit able age, they were pressed into fighting for the Greek army. Those who refused were sometimes killed in front of their families.

In this light, suddenly stories about hardships in Greece made more sense. I remember grandpa telling me that he was shot at once for picking an apple from a tree when he was hungry, but he didn’t mention the political climate. He often told me, “This is a great country. There is no better country on this earth.” Now I understand better why he said so.

My Grandpa Chournos could not return to Greece. He had no money. After years of hard labor, he began to herd sheep, and received sheep of his own for wages. He increased his herd and began homesteading to have range for his herd. Everything he earned, he put back into his business. He met my Grandmother on sheep business, when Grandma’s dad had been too sick to go out, so Grandpa went to their home. They courted and were married, and spent their honeymoon at the Utah Wool Growers Convention.

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Trailing sheep between summer / winter ranges

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As a young married couple

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Eccles Peak, Monte Cristo

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Interview picture from the National Geographic

Grandpa was an amazing and hard worker. In his life, Grandpa never did join the LDS faith, though he was supportive of my Grandmother’s LDS faith. He was so devoted to his ranch work that I could hardly imagine him thinking much about faith, but he was also hurt when some ‘member in name only’ Mormons ignored his legal claim to ground he owned. His life was threatened and the uncharitable party told him openly that he would never have the ground because he was a foreigner and a non-Mormon. Thankfully, the courts, and more honorable Mormons serving there preserved the rule of law and Grandpa’s claim prevailed.

There are many good men and women in his very large, mixed posterity. I learned much from this gruff man, who I worked for as a teenager. He had softened a lot in his old age when I knew him. He cared for his family as best as he understood how. I remember my sister saying how she didn’t know how she could pay her college fees, when he suddenly, without knowing her situation he insisted that she take money that enabled her to pay. He knew poverty himself and didn’t want any to suffer. I love my Grandpa Chournos, and his father Christos, different kinds of pioneers, but I claim them as part of my pioneer heritage. They prepared the way for me!