Friday, December 31, 2010

Wright Words: Five New Year’s resolutions you can actually keep

'Tis the season for inspirational columns, blogs and soundtrack-backed television segments about the power of New Year's resolutions. Over the coming days, everyone from Jon Stewart to Dr. Phil and from Barney Gumble to Matt Lauer will weigh in with advice for 2011.

Make no mistake, they have valuable opinions to share, and I'll do as much reading and listening as anyone. But if you're anything like me, and let's hope for your sake and for your community-at-large that you're not, by Jan. 15 you'll be seeing signs of slippage on whatever resolutions you make. By Feb. 1 you'll be hanging by a thread so thin you'd need a DNA microscope to find it. By March 1 you'll be selling that abdominal contraption on eBay. You know the one. It's that device that looks like a cross between a Big Wheel and something that you strap yourself into for a long ride to the International Space Station.

Who hasn't been there? I remember years ago a college buddy told me that once and for all he was going to give up Dr. Pepper on New Year's Day. He told me how proud he felt to walk into his closet, uncover his secret stash and pour it down the drain in his master bathroom. "I'll never drink another caffeinated soda," he told his wife. "This is the year."

Then on Jan. 4 he called me from his cell phone. He wanted me to know he hadn't just fallen off the wagon, it had backed up and run him over. I tried not to laugh as he described pulling open the heavy glass door of his favorite 7-Eleven, yanking up his hoodie, filling a Big Gulp with the "forbidden juice" and tossing the exact amount on the counter in stride as he rolled out before anyone could spot him. He drank it in his car, parked in the far corner of the employee lot at his office building and hid the collapsed evidence under his seat for disposal on the way home from work.

I found it funny then — and now — because I relate so well. Hard and fast resolutions are wonderful when we keep them. But when we don't, which happens much more often than not, we only remind ourselves we're not as perfect as we'd like to be.

In 2011, why don't we set five resolutions we can actually keep?

1. Ignore the mirror: Let's be honest, most of us aren't super models. But the truth is you're much better looking than you think are. In fact, you're actually quite beautiful. You're not as plump as you imagine, and your nose and teeth are just fine. You're divine, and those who love you agree.

2. Walk more: Don't commit to walking 40 miles a week or even an hour a day. Just commit to walking more than you did last year. Park at the back of the lot every time you're at IKEA, Wal-Mart or your local mall. Before you know it, you will have walked a marathon.

3. Eat better: Can you still eat fast food? Sure you can. Just make a conscious effort to skip it now and then. Next time you have a hankering for a hamburger, grab a salad instead. Next time you're jonesing for a soda, grab an ice-cold bottle of water from the convenience store.

4. Pray more: I had a friend tell me his key to success was kneeling in quiet prayer no fewer than six times a day. Six times? I'm delighted when I get two on my knees, one at my desk, one in my car and one on a golf course. If you feel distance between you and your Father in Heaven, step closer through prayer, but don't keep a pie chart. Just pray more than you did last year; the results will astound you.

5. Be more charitable: Are you slow to say thank you? To open doors? To forgive? Make charity a verb by seeking out small moments every single day to lift someone. Will you still get grumpy? Still have bad days? Still find yourself occasionally annoyed at people around you? Sure, but not as much as you did last year, guaranteed.

Perhaps more than anything in the year ahead, let's remember that New Year's resolutions aren't about being perfect; they are about being better.

They are not meant to transform us into someone else; they should simply mold us into a better version of ourselves.

That's the key to happiness 2011.

*Are you subscribed to my free newsletter?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wright Words: How death made my 17th Christmas feel like my very first

After school on Friday, Dec. 18, 1987, a friend and I drove to the University of Virginia hospital in Charlottesville. I was 16 years old. The next morning we were set to travel to a high school speech and forensics competition across the state.

I was there to visit my father, Willard Wright, admitted for tests and likely surgery. He was in round two of a battle that began as kidney cancer and had recently changed playing fields to his lower back.

That evening, as the winter sun set in his drab third-floor room, Dad took my hand to wish me well for the weekend. Then through light, quickened breaths he said two words that will never fade: "Be good."

At the time — given how well he knew my rambunctious personality — I assumed he meant to be good on the bus the next morning. Hours later I learned I was wrong.

While rehearsing a dramatic reading in my living room, the most dramatic moment of my life unfolded with a simple phone call. My eldest brother called to say Dad had stopped breathing and the rest of us needed to race to the hospital immediately.

I remember the nausea. I remember kneeling quickly in prayer with my other brother and my sister. I remember white-knuckle gripping the door handle as my brother flew us down our country road toward the hospital in his tiny blue Chevette.

I took the steps to the third floor three at a time. At the top, just outside the waiting room where my mother sat in shock and fresh grief, my brother met me with two more words I still hear today: "He's gone."

The next few days dripped by like gray raindrops on a window, each bleeding into the next. Every morning I opened my eyes and prayed the night's dream had been real. Because in the early days, I dreamed he was still alive.

Christmas morning, one week later, after the viewing and funeral, and after most of the out-of-town guests had returned to far corners of the country, we awoke to open presents Mom and Dad had bought — but that only mom would watch us open. It didn't matter because that was the first Christmas I didn't wonder what was in the packages or gift bags.

The immediate and most pressing question when we lose a loved one is simple: "Will I see them again?" No matter your faith, or how faithful you are in it, the question is universal. For days that question rolled through me like a tired rerun.

Time passed and there were more lonely moments by myself in tearful reflection. But today, through the gift of a lens only time can bestow, I see that it may have just been the first real Christmas of my life. That morning, Dec. 25, 1987, launched a clean and deeper understanding of the holiday.

My parents taught me as best they could to remember that Christmas is about Christ's birth. But when my father died, it became much, much more. I came to realize that it's as much about the Savior's life and death as his humble arrival on earth.

Because of my desire to see my father again and finish learning the lessons I believe he was meant to teach me, I finally began to view Christmas as a stepping-stone to a more important holiday, Easter, the day we rejoice in Christ's resurrection.

Obviously Dec. 25 is an important cultural and religious holiday for many of us. But without his perfect life, wouldn't Christmas be just another birthday?

Without the bloodshed and anguish in Gethsemane, wouldn't Christmas be just another day to fill the stores?

Without the death on the cross, and, even more importantly, his resurrection three days later, Christ's birth would have been just another baby born in Bethlehem.

It is because of his heavenly mission, the atonement only he could fulfill, and his glorious resurrection that we live with hope. Hope we will not just live after death, but if we live well and righteously, we will live with him again.

I am eternally grateful that my Christmas sorrow in 1987 transformed to hope. Now, 23 years later, I rejoice that my hope turned to faith, that faith became knowledge, that knowledge matured to complete confidence, an unshakable certainly that not only does Jesus Christ live but my father lives, too. One day I will see both again.

Oh how I love Christmas! Not only for the birth of our Savior but for the holy beginning. And because of his perfect life, it is a beginning that hath no end.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wright Words: Oprah's second-favorite things

You may have heard that Oprah Winfrey, the undisputed Queen of Talk TV, recently shot her final 'Favorite Things' episode. If you didn't actually see it, maybe you heard it from your front porch? The audience went so wild Oprah fielded noise complaints from Dublin to Dubai.

In a sweeping hour of generosity, Oprah handed her weeping audience everything from purses to games, from electronics to mac-and-cheese, and from cutlery to a car. She didn't just play Santa; she played the elf that Santa fired for being too generous. The total value of freebies per audience member? $36,837.

As I watched the highlights on my local news I couldn't help but think two things: First, why wasn't I invited to be in the studio audience? Second, if these are her favorite gifts for the Christmas season, what are her second-favorite? I don't know about you, but for me that list might be more useful. Seriously, how many of us have a 36 large gift budget?

So, are you also looking for some fantastic gifts for 2010 that won't break the bank? Allow me to propose 10 gifts that might have made Oprah's "Second-Favorite Things" list.

-Giant Gummy Bear on a Stick, a treat from VAT19. This tasty gummy bear weighs in at half-a-pound, or 88 times larger than a standard bear. Just try to wipe the smile off the face of your sugar fanatic when they unwrap this big guy on Christmas morning.

-"The Paper Bag Christmas," a novel by Kevin Milne. This is one of the most moving Christmas books I've ever read. It's short, it's sweet, and the message will linger long after the tree has disappeared from your living room.

-"Toy Story 3," on DVD from Pixar. Perhaps never has a trilogy of films ended so well. This wasn't simply the finest animated movie of 2010, it was one of the best movies of the year, period.

-"Art & Max," a children's book by David Wiesner. The three-time Caldecott medalist returns with the most innovative and stunning picture book of the year. You'll buy it for the kids, but you'll enjoy even it more.

-Mega Moon Mood Hopz, shoes from Toys R Us. These lightweight shoes make you feel like you're bouncing around in zero gravity. The closest thing you'll get to space walking without taking the red eye to the moon. Yes dads, they come in sizes up to 9 mens.

-"Grace," an album by Cherie Call. You simply cannot find an artist with a more distinctive voice. But it's not just her vocals that ring so pleasantly in your ears, it's her beautiful, insightful songwriting. She's a treasure.

-Brazos Bottom Pecan Pie, from Goode Company in Houston, Texas. Available online, this tasty gift arrives in a custom wooden box that's almost as attractive as the dessert inside. Trust me, this pie is so good that your mother will send you hate mail for changing your allegiance.

-Family Tree Wall Stickers, plastic wall decals from HearthSong. Help your children learn and display the branches of your family with a colorful, oversized tree. The removable decals go on any smooth service in the house. Fun for kids. Fulfilling for everyone.

-"Road Less Traveled," an album by David Osmond. The American Idol alum is a rare artist who sounds just as good in person as on a professionally studio mastered CD. Many of his tracks feel so authentic and deeply personal, it's as if he's singing straight from his journal.

-Would You Rather? a game by Zobmondo!!. It is against the laws of the universe to play this award-winning game without having riotous fun. No question lands without debate: "Would you rather have five bottles stuck on the fingers of one hand for a year or have a bucket stuck on your foot for a year?"

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Wright Words: Who received the very first Christmas Jar?

Call me odd, but my favorite time of year has nothing to do with lights, gifts, smells or snow, and it doesn't start on Thanksgiving. Actually, it has no firm start date.

My favorite season begins the first time I open my e-mail and find a Christmas Jar anecdote. This year's first sighting hit my inbox on Nov. 17. It came from Rachel in Minnesota:

"(Today) I received a Christmas Jar filled with $164.01. Wish I knew who to thank, as it helps more than they will probably ever know. You can bet your bottom dollar that the extra 1 cent is the beginning of my very own Christmas Jar."

Thus it begins, another season of heart-tugging miracles. While the book that began the movement might have been fiction, the magical stories that flood my website are as real as the people who both give and receive the special jars full of your quarters, nickels, dimes and pennies.

I hear from single mothers who prayed for a miracle, widows who needed a reminder they're not alone, depressed dads who found themselves jobless during the holidays. I hear from families, young singles, pastors and kids.

The details are different but the messages identical. No matter the amount of money, giving or receiving a jar changes the way they view the holiday and brings them a dose of hope.

I've said it a thousand times in churches, schools and at community events. The Christmas Jar movement has far surpassed the novel itself and is infinitely more important. It's not about a book any longer; it's about millions of dollars of spare change given away, mostly in anonymity, to people in need.

I'm often asked who received the very first Christmas Jar after the book was released in 2005. While it's impossible to know with complete certainly, I believe it began in Farmington, Utah. After countless stories shared in person and online, this one remains my favorite:

A young man named Cameron Birch, age 5, was bravely nearing the end of a life sliced short by cancer. On Christmas Eve, just before his long step from this life's mission to the next, an evening knock at the door startled Cameron and his family.

As usual, his two older brothers raced to see who stood on their quiet porch. When they opened the door, they found two enormous and anonymous Christmas Jars, one of which held a note and a copy of the book. The note read that the money was Cameron's, and his grateful parents explained more than once that it was his to spend.

What mother wouldn't offer their fast-fading a son a final chance to have a material wish come true?

What father wouldn't say, "This money is yours, bud. What would you like?"

What child wouldn't wish for a last lap at Toys R Us? A chance to fill a cart at Wal-Mart? Not Cameron.

When given more than $400 in change and a list of enticing options as long as his days would allow, the young man suggested the family replace some of the toys in the Primary Children's Center playroom where he'd spent so many hours since his initial diagnosis. He imagined new puzzles, fresh books and a sturdier play tool bench. He dreamed of smiles on the faces of his fellow cancer patients but wouldn't dream of keeping a nickel.

My daughter and I had the pleasure of meeting Cameron six weeks later. We saw the empty jars on his kitchen counter, already being filled with coins for an unknown family the following Christmas.

We sat on the edge of his bed in the living room and listened. Not to his voice, all but lost in the noise of death's footsteps, but to his spirit. I thought then, and now, that sometimes the spirit speaks louder than a mouth ever could.

He died three days later on a Sunday.

Years have passed, and still his decision brings chills. All of the things he could have done, after all he'd endured for nearly a year as cancer teased and taunted, he chose to pass it on to others he believed had a greater need.

Were other Christmas Jars given away that first year? Many. Are their unique stories inspiring? Of course. Do I still believe Cameron was the first and that after five years and countless jars he remains our ambassador? Absolutely, and Cameron's legacy lives on.

Still, after all the questions and all the answers about how, when and where it all began, perhaps it doesn't really matter who received the first jar in 2005.

The real question is, who will receive yours in 2010?

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Wright Words: Mormons don’t celebrate Christmas and other myths

Just before Thanksgiving I visited an old high school chum's book club. She called it a favor; I called it a treat. There isn't much I'd rather do than chat with people who are passionate about books and who graciously take the time to read one of mine.

The friend and her sweet family spent several weeks organizing and preparing for my visit. After a lengthy and lively discussion about their book-of-the-month, "Christmas Jars," we opened up the discussion to a broader range of topics.

The questions were fairly typical: How many hours do I write each day? Do I outline first? How does my family cope with me being gone so often?

Then came a question so far out in left field it would need to ride the parking lot shuttle just to see the stadium.

A smiling woman, sitting on a couch near me, asked boldly, "You've written a book about Christmas, but I know from your website that you're a Mormon. How did you reconcile your religious beliefs, the fact that you don't celebrate Christmas, with writing a book called 'Christmas Jars'?"

You've heard the term 'pregnant pause'? This one was having quintuplets.

I told her I didn't quite understand the question and asked her to repeat it. She did, nearly verbatim, then added that she'd once dated a member of the church and that he'd told her Mormons don't really celebrate the holiday.

I nibbled a sugar cookie, took a sip of water and finally said, "I'll be honest, I've been a member of the church my entire life, and this is the first time I've ever heard someone suggest that we don't celebrate Christmas. But I'm certainly glad to address it."

Yes, Mormons celebrate Christmas, I explained, and that like other Christians hopefully our celebrations revolve around the birth of Christ. In fact, everything we believe points to him. Do many of us try to downplay the commercial aspect of the holiday in order to focus on its more sacred significance? Of course we do, but that's also true of Methodists, Presbyterians, Baptists, etc. I added that we put up Christmas trees, string lights, sing carols and bake brownies by the bushel.

She apologized, which I assured her was completely unnecessary, and she told me how grateful she was for the clarification. By the end of the night the awkward moment had long passed, and I told the ladies how much I'd enjoyed the discussion.

I pondered that exchange on my long drive home. What other myths or odd stereotypes might she believe? Certainly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is often misunderstood and misrepresented in the media. But with more than 14 million members around the world, there are plenty of us to clarify the misperceptions. If we don't, who will?

If given a chance to meet her again, I might tackle the most common myth and make absolutely sure she knows Mormons do not practice polygamy. The next time she or anyone else hears the media associating Mormons with the illegal practice, she can rest assured that the practitioners are not members of the church.

What we do believe is that the family is the central unit in society. Schools can play a small role, government too, and certainly our neighbors can be valuable, but nothing is more vital than the family. Most importantly, we believe that families can be together forever.

If the woman and I cross paths again, I might ask what she knows about the Book of Mormon. Perhaps she believes the myth that it is our Mormon Bible. If so, I'd make it clear that no book replaces the importance of the teachings of the Bible and that I have a copy of the King James Version on my nightstand and in my church bag.

What we do believe is that the Book of Mormon is another important testament of Jesus Christ. It is an account of ancient civilizations in the Americas who, like their brothers and sisters in the Middle East, were blessed with prophets and prophecies of the Savior's birth and ministry. Later they were visited by the resurrected Lord. I also would have added, likely with a tear in my eye, that I know it to be the word of God. I know that it testifies, like the Bible, of the divinity of Jesus Christ and that its teachings provide a roadmap to return to live with him.

If I were fortunate enough to see her again, I would ask what she knows about modern-day prophets. I would ensure she knows that while we believe in them, we do not worship them. Maybe she believes the myth that Joseph Smith is the founder of our religion. If so, I would testify that our religion isn't his. It is the gospel of Jesus Christ, and we worship him alone. Also, Joseph Smith didn't found the church; he restored it in 1830 with apostles, prophets and priesthood authority. What a blessing that today it resembles the church as led by the Savior when he walked the earth.

Above all else, if this woman and I were ever in the same room again, I would want her to know how much our Father in Heaven loves every single one of us, no matter our religion. Whether prisoner of myths or not, we are all divine sons and daughters. I hope she knows how much he wants all of us to return home and live with him again.

May all Christians focus their holiday celebrations on the birth of our Savior, the beginning of the greatest life ever lived and the greatest story ever told.

Do Mormons celebrate Christmas? Yes, because we celebrate him.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Wright Words: The holiday gratitude challenge

As a child there was only one thing I dreaded about Thanksgiving. It wasn't the juicy turkey, sumptuous stuffing, mashed potatoes, Waldorf salad, pies, more pies, and if I was well behaved, even more pies. No, nothing on the menu was dread-worthy.

What caused me heartburn wasn't anything that happened during the meal; it was something that happened right before the meal. I knew odds were high that my father would be the one to bless the food and give proper thanks.

I heard my father pray countless times growing up: over meals, in the car, at bedtime, at church, as Jack Nicklaus stood over a putt to win the Masters in 1986. But it was over Thanksgiving dinner that my father took the responsibility of saying grace to rare-air level. The prayer lasted so long that by the time we finally ate, most families were already enjoying their late-night turkey sandwiches. There was one year when Dad's Thanksgiving prayer went so long we went straight from the table to the Christmas tree to open gifts.

It was during those prayers that I learned to listen with my eyes closed. Or were they, Mother? Like a trapped prisoner looking through jailhouse bars, I peered through my thick eyelashes to make sure one of my siblings hadn't grabbed the hot roll over which I'd already shouted "dibs!"

Many years later, it's my turn to be the dad, and I've decided to launch my own approach. Throughout the holidays, at dinner every night until New Year's, we all say one thing we're thankful for.

There are only two rules to our Holiday Gratitude Challenge. You cannot repeat anything someone at the table has already said, and you cannot repeat any item from a previous day.

We started a few nights ago. It has been an interesting exercise to think of things we're grateful for that might not be so obvious.

I challenge you to take the Holiday Gratitude Challenge. If you do, you'll find low-hanging fruit in the first few days. After all, who isn't grateful for their family, their country, the scriptures, etc.? It's what comes next that really opens your eyes to the personalities of your children and, perhaps, to Mom and Dad.

I discovered that my wife is grateful for Steven Sasson, the mind and the man behind the first digital camera. That's probably not something that would've come up in the typical Thanksgiving Day prayer. But she feels genuine gratitude that someone brought cameras, digital and original, into the world and into our home.

She's right; just try thinking of life today without the camera.

As for me, my family learned that I am grateful for innovative genius Hans Riegel, creator of the gummy bear. No explanation required.

My oldest daughter is grateful for Steve Jobs and his ubiquitous iPod. Again, no explanation required.

Her younger sister is grateful for the art of origami. She's quite talented, and, if we let her, she'd build her own paper house in the backyard and move in immediately.

My 7-year-old son is grateful for his collection of little things. Little cars, little pins, little rocks, little treats he sneaks into his little pockets.

My youngest son, age 3, is grateful for Mr. Walt Disney and for the parents who brought him into the world. If Mickey Mouse had a Mouse Mom and a Mouse Dad, my little guy would be grateful for them, too.

What other things are we grateful for that don't automatically come to mind?

I am grateful for airplanes. Imagine a world where every time you needed to get from Va. to LA you had to hop in the car. Imagine the meetings you would miss, the family reunions never planned and the funerals with too few in the pews.

I am grateful for Gregory Orr, a poet and professor at the University of Virginia who inspired me to do what I do. He turned tragedy — having accidentally shot and killed his brother when he was young — into art by writing a series of stunning poems and later a gripping, gorgeous memoir. I am grateful for him and for his courage in sharing his story with the world.

I am also thankful for cell phones, hot water heaters, garage door openers, men and women in uniform, and Taco Bell.

I hope you and your family will take the Holiday Gratitude Challenge. You might be surprised at what things you rely on and how grateful you are for them.

Reminiscing on my own list reminds me that while my late-father's never-ending Thanksgiving Day prayers sure made my stomach growl, I'm enormously grateful for them, too. I wonder if wherever he is right now, he's still blessing last year's Thanksgiving Dinner.

I hope so.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Wright Words: The day my daughter slayed a dragon

People around me must be wondering why I'm getting misty-eyed so often these days. Blaming it on allergies or seeing "Secretariat" might be easier, but the truth tells me it's all about the upcoming birthday of my 11-year-old baby girl.

Twelve is a big birthday in the Wright House because it means baby-sitting gigs, pierced ears if she finds the courage, and a transition at church from the runny noses of Primary to the big, bold world of the Young Women organization.

All of it has her nervous about what awaits. It would have a me a bit anxious, too, except for my favorite memory from her first 11 years: The day she proved she could slay a dragon.

It was a Sunday like most others at our chapel in Oakton, Va. Good messages, lots of warm fellowship. But the speakers? They were unforgettable. Particularly a petite, beautiful young lady standing a hair under 4 feet tall. She was 7 years old.

As is custom in Primaries around the world held each week in more than 100 languages and in buildings of all shapes and sizes, precious children from age 3-11 take turns delivering short talks on basic gospel principles. These angels speak on faith, prayer, temples and families. The words are few, the messages pure.

My own angel was to speak on Heavenly Father's plan. It was not the first time she'd been assigned, but previous attempts were rather unsuccessful, sometimes in very dramatic fashion. If she'd been old enough for her own reality show, it would have been a hit.

There were the fake tummy aches, creatively imagined bug bites, and blank stares from the primary pulpit followed by sobs and a superglue grip on Mom or Dad. The misery always eased outside the room on a welcoming couch in the foyer. Each failure was heartbreaking for all who witnessed it.

When yet another assignment was issued by our Primary secretary — a kind woman with the patience of Job — the pretty, pink half-page flier with her handwritten topic was met with the requisite refusals and crocodile tears.

Speaking in church had become her dragon.

With much coaxing, and by coaxing I mean bribing, and by bribing I mean multiple trips to 7-Eleven, I convinced her to sit her on my lap mid-week, and together we drafted a three-sentence masterpiece. We printed two copies on our trusty Inkjet, one for her flower-embroidered, cloth scripture bag and one for her mother to carry as a backup — just in case.

In our pajamas we practiced the talk every night before bed. Each rehearsal ended with wild applause, hugs and tickles, and five familiar words: "You can slay this dragon!"

Sunday arrived and the drive to church featured yet another pep talk and promises of an extra Rice Krispies Treat after dinner. Though we'd seen this dragon win before, we were cautiously optimistic this was the day it fell.

Primary began on time and without incident. Gorgeous in her favorite dress, my trooper sat terrified in the chair draped with a yellow felt banner marked "TALK." To each side sat other children in the less frightening chairs marked "SCRIPTURE" and "PRAYER."

I stood in the back cradling my 1-year-old son. My older daughter, the one who'd already taken this dragon out and taught it never to return, sat in the first row with her arms folded, eyes fixed on her best friend and partner-in-crime. The increasingly fidgety children sang an opening song, followed by a rousing rendition of "You Had a Birthday, Shout Hurray!" aimed at two little blushing boys.

Cue my daughter. Cue the dragon.

My wife took her pale-faced daughter's hand and led her to the green-carpeted stool behind the pulpit. She stepped up, unfolded her 40-word talk, and looked out at the mass of curious kids and their teachers.

Before she'd scanned even half the room, she'd turned and buried her head in her mother's neck. Her gut-wrenching cries were picked up clearly by the nearby black gooseneck microphone.

My heart ached. I said a simple, short prayer and knew my other daughter was silently doing the same. I had impure thoughts about that nasty dragon lurking over her shoulder.

My angel, as we all are every day, was faced with an opportunity to bend to fear and wait for another day, or raise her head and cast all doubts and indecision out into the air around her, never to return.

The next 60 seconds are permanently archived in my mind like your favorite scene in your favorite movie. It is a unique, colorful memory like few others in my entire life.

This angel, this blessed child of God, swallowed hard, fixed her eyes squarely on the talk she'd long-ago memorized and delivered the best talk I've ever heard.

"Heavenly Father made a plan to live with him again. Sometimes we make good choices, sometimes we make bad choices. I know if we make good choices we can live with him again. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen."

And down went the dragon! My eyes filled then and my eyes fill now reliving those sweet seconds.

After the closing prayer, my little hero ran to meet me in the back of the room. One by one teachers and classmates came to congratulate and hug the suddenly victorious public speaker. I cried, she cried, her mother beamed, and I made a note to call Toastmasters.

That night over a hot, gooey batch of Rice Krispies Treats eaten straight from the bowl, I realized that it is not life's major events that teach and build us up. It is the less ballyhooed, unexpected moments that shape our soul and can seal our future.

We read in Matthew, Chapter 18: "... Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven."

I can only hope to be so brave, so pure. I can only pray to be so worthy of his kingdom.

In a singular moment this tiny warrior stood up to the dragon she feared, trusted her Father in Heaven, and learned that she had the the power to slay it and never fear again.

So can the rest of us.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wright Words: Failing to follow my own advice

Hello! I begin with an apology for being such a cruddy blogger of late. I wish I could blame it on the new book, travel, my family, polio, etc. But the truth is I've just been a lousy blogger. Here's to being better!

Over the next few days I'll be catching up on posting my Wright Words columns. They appear weekly in the Deseret News, on Facebook, and soon (hopefully) in a syndicated column.

Here's my most recent. It's the most personal column yet. Hope you enjoy.

Wright Words: Failing to follow my own advice

A regretful experience this week has my emotions bleeding into nearly every waking thought. By the end of this column, I'm hopeful the deep regret will begin to bloom into resolution.

Weekly readers of Wright Words know that my most recent novel, "The Seventeen Second Miracle," is about the small things we do for one another every day that make a difference. It's not the great, dramatic sacrifices of time and talent that define us. It's those precious seconds or minutes when, without making excuses or checking our calendar, we perform a mini-miracle for someone.

I wish this column were about one of those miraculous experiences. Instead, it's about the regret and pain of an opportunity missed.

A few days ago I had a classic opportunity to perform a Seventeen Second Miracle. It was precisely the kind of miracle espoused in the book with my name on the cover. It was just the kind of thing my late-father, who inspired the book, would have done. In fact, as I sit at my desk, I can close my eyes and see him doing exactly what I didn't.

On the evening of Nov. 2, a local store hosted a book signing for me. The owners are dear friends; they are people I admire for their love of life, family and God.

Nov. 2 was also Election Day across the United States, and there is no day more exciting for a political junkie like me. The book signing was scheduled to end around the time polls on the East Coast closed, and I was anxious to get home to watch the results pour in.

Then the storeowner's phone rang.

The caller, a gentleman who was a friend of the owners and lived nearby, asked if I would consider stopping by his home after the event to meet his wife, Audrey. She'd long wanted to meet me but couldn't attend. Would I be willing to make that happen? She was a big fan, he insisted, and had read all my novels.

Audrey had a lot of time to read, it turns out. Battling breast cancer does that to a person.

I looked at the clock, realized I was already running late leaving the event and asked if I could come by another time. The storeowner handed me the phone, and I arranged to visit her three days later.

The entire ride home I told my wife how bad I felt about not taking a few minutes to visit her, about being selfish with my time and over my desire to watch votes tallied on television. Not badly enough to turn the car around, mind you, just enough to give voice to the thoughts.

I stayed up until 1:00 a.m. eating snacks, drinking my favorite soda and watching a dozen cable news talking heads slowly announce results from Virginia to Alaska.

Two days later my friend called to say Audrey had been taken to the hospital, and our meeting in her living room would need to be rescheduled.

This morning I found out Audrey would never see her living room again.

There aren't words in this language or any other to describe the remorse I feel at having passed up an opportunity to sit and chat with this woman. Not because it would have been some great honor for her, but because it would have been a great honor for me.

It was a miracle moment so custom made, an opportunity so ideally presented. It was what I'd spent months writing about and promoting in churches and schools across the country. It was the no-brainer opportunity of a lifetime to perform a small act of service without hesitating.

Except that I did hesitate.

And the opportunity was missed.

Later today I will send flowers and a note.

Later tonight I will sit on the edge of my bed and wonder.

Later this week I will attend Audrey's viewing, pay my respects and apologize to her husband.

But for now, I hope this moment teaches me that pain can be a blessing if we allow it to change us for good. Regret can be useful, but only if it lingers for a moment, not a lifetime.

My hope for today and for many days to come is that I will be able to turn a deep regret into a resolution, a resolution to never pass those moments by again. It will be my simple way of honoring a woman I never got to meet.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a book to read.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Some e-mails are meant to be shared

Some e-mails are just too good to keep all to myself. This one will have me smiling for weeks. Hope you enjoy it, too. Her enthusiasm is infectious!

I bet you receive countless stories about Christmas Jars or Wednesday Letters, even about Cross Gardeners. My note to you is different, I hope.

My husband and I love adventure and often find it with our three children in tow. My dearest love had our 2009 summer vacation planned, that meant we were hittin' the road and I needed a good read.

Off to my Wal-Mart I went, and what did I find... The Wednesday Letters! I looked it over, liked what I read and bounced off to buy it. Well, in my mind I bounced off, I forget I'm in my mid-30s sometimes.

Back on June 25, 2009 my husband and I, with our three children, hopped in the truck and headed north out of Georgia. My darling husband had the miles mapped out and reservations set. Our first stop would be Natural Bridge, VA. We love nature and natural formations and a stop at a natural bridge was a must. Somehow we made it up to VA in lightning speed, or perhaps it was simply because I was absorbed with my latest read.

That first night we stayed in Harrisonburg, VA. As I read my novel I became aware, quite quickly, that I was IN my book. It was the oddest feeling. I shared so much with my husband about the novel and the correlation between it and where we were. Little did I know, it would be even more intense for me.

June 26th we woke up ready to take on our next planned attraction. We headed out of Harrisonburg, and with eager anticipation we went on our way to Luray Caverns. As my husband navigated his way I slipped back into my novel, The Wednesday Letters.

Not before long I looked up and found us at an intersection in a cute little town. My husband was unsure of which way to go, and since we are so cliche, he didn't ask for directions or look at a map and I pointed us in whatever direction my woman's intuition led me. We took a left and headed on our way to what we thought was the way to Luray Caverns.

With my book in my lap I saw a sign, OH MY GOODNESS, we were in New Market! Seeing that alone got me revved up and I gave my husband quite the earful with more stories of Malcolm and his trials.

We drove along and then I saw a sign for Mount Jackson. I was close to jumping out of my skin. At that point I could care less about Luray Caverns or anything else going on around me.

We continued to head north and I took in the beautiful vista all around me, I was in the Shenandoah Valley and I was so happy.

I had my book clutched to my chest as we rolled into Edinburgh. I knew in my heart that we were going the wrong way, away from the caverns, but I also knew the name of the town that just lied to the north. I didn't need a map and the feeling I had inside me was indescribable.

I headed into a gas station and asked for directions to the caverns, after hopping back in the truck and telling my husband we had to turn around, I also told him about the story that unfolded right to the north of where we were.

The next town to the north was Woodstock, a town I knew in my head, where I knew about the inn, the residents and the scenery.

As we drove back south, away from Woodstock I felt a peace, because I knew I had already been there, even if just in my mind.

Can we say irony? How is it that just days before my trip through the Shenandoah Valley I pick up a book that is set in that very place? How is it that without even meaning to, we got lost right in the very same area where the book is set?

It's a feeling and experience I will never fully find the words to explain but I think it's one of the most amazing ironies I've ever experienced.

Thank you Mr. Wright, for giving me a reading experience like no other!

Michelle Lynch
Loganville, Georgia

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Wright Words: No, I can’t introduce you to Glenn Beck

Every single week someone writes, calls, texts, or flies an airplane banner over my home asking if I can facilitate an introduction to Glenn Beck.

The requests are typically based on the fact that Jason Wright is a Mormon, Glenn Beck is a Mormon, and I’ve been on his show. Naturally we must be BFF’s, right?

Usually people wanting my access to Glenn have a new book coming out, a just-finished manuscript in search of a publisher, or maybe a line of cotton aprons with conservative slogans plastered on the front with a Bedazzeler.

Other times they just want to say they’ve shaken his hand or talked to him on the phone. One ‘friend’ even wanted me to invite Glenn to a surprise birthday party in Dallas. And by ‘friend’ I mean we met on Facebook when he threw a Sheep at me.

These requests come from all corners of the country. A woman in Virginia asked me to tell Glenn she prefers him in his blue sweater and to wear it more often. A man from Oregon suggested Glenn put a ‘cussin jar’ on the set to encourage him to keep his language under control.

One request came all the way from Australia. After catching me on Glenn’s program, a woman e-mailed this gem: ‘Please tell Mr. Beck someone from the Outback thinks he’s an idiot.’ No Mate, I didn’t pass that one along, but I think of you every time I eat a Bloomin’ Onion.

It’s not that I’m annoyed by these requests; I just don’t understand them. Somehow these well-meaning folks assume Glenn and I play golf every Friday and have cart races on the 18th fairway. It’s simply not true.

What is true is that Glenn is a friend. We met in 2005 when Christmas Jars was still a speck on the national radar and nowhere near a New York Times bestseller. Before the book was even in stores, my publisher sent Glenn an advance readers’ copy (ARC) with a note requesting he give it a look and consider endorsing or discussing it on the air. But that’s hardly unusual. Like most publishers, they send ARC’s to all sorts of media personalities from Beck to Lauer and from Regis to Ellen. That first year, we were so desperate we probably sent one to Handy Manny.

Weeks passed without word from anyone and we assumed the book was lost somewhere in the giant pile Glenn and his counterparts receive each month.

Then the phone rang. A week before Christmas a cousin called and suggested I turn on my radio because Glenn was discussing my book. No, he wasn’t just discussing it, he was reading from it. He read nearly the entire first chapter and gushed about it with enthusiasm even the ShamWow guy would envy.

The next day I called his radio show, introduced myself, and Glenn graciously endorsed the book once again on the air. He told his listeners that the previous Friday someone from his radio staff had begged him to take home a book for the weekend and make progress on the stack of ARC’s awaiting his attention. He gave the tower of books a quick scan and pulled out the thinnest, having faith it was something he could actually finish by Monday morning. There’s no other way to put it: That good fortune changed my life.

A year later he invited me to join him on his television show to share some of the true Christmas Jars miracles I’d heard since the book’s release.

Another year later he read and endorsed The Wednesday Letters, again inviting me on television and radio. Then came Recovering Charles, which Glenn again praised and promoted with me at his side.

In 2008, Glenn asked me to co-write The Christmas Sweater and I was fortunate to spend time on the phone and in-person hearing his personal story and his vision for sharing it with the world. It remains a highlight of my writing career.

Last year Glenn made time in a very busy season to again discuss the Christmas Jars movement on his radio and TV programs. I spent the day in his offices, soaking up the energy and capturing as many memories as I could. At one point during a one-on-one discussion in his office, I actually became emotional discussing a personal trial. He hugged me and offered words of encouragement. It was a tender moment I hold dear.

Since first meeting Glenn, he’s become a national phenomenon. There was a time I could get him on the phone, but that’s become a near impossible task for all but his closest associates. There were many days he replied to my e-mails, now he must receive more e-mails everyday than I receive in a year.

Even his staff, the most loyal bunch I’ve ever encountered, is much harder to communicate with. But such are the challenges and realities of being the #3 most popular radio show in the country, a TV mega star, and a publishing machine. As his star has grown, the protective layers around him have understandably multiplied and thickened.

Obviously I understand the desire to connect to Glenn Beck. I owe him a great deal and I readily acknowledge I wouldn’t be where I am today without him. Love him or hate him, his clout in the publishing marketplace is colossal. When Glenn mentions, endorses or interviews an author, he moves books like no one but Oprah, the original kingmaker.

I were as successful and visible as Glenn, would I want my friends constantly using our friendship as an entre for everyone who needs my time or name on the back of their book? Would I resent the fact that being friends with Jason means he’ll bombard me with every next-big-thing that hits his in-box? I’ll never know, but I can certainly imagine.

No, I can’t introduce you to Glenn Beck. But I like you and I’m glad we’re friends/acquaintances/neighbors/complete strangers. What I can do is invite you to watch his show, listen to his radio program, read his books, and enjoy everything his growing empire has to offer.

If you have a book, CD or other creation to promote and it’s something in Glenn’s wheelhouse, Google his address at Fox News in New York and send it to him. Trust me, it’s worth a shot.

Finally, I promise that if Glenn and I ever race those golf carts, I’ll tell him you prefer the blue sweater.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wright Words: What is a Seventeen Second Miracle?

At long last, The Seventeen Second Miracle isn't just a crazy idea floating around my head. It's finally a novel available in bookstores around the country. I've said this before, but there's nothing quite like "Release Week" for an author.

Of course the book is also available online at these web sites:

Barnes & Noble

So what is a Seventeen Second Miracle?

You're in line at Wal-Mart with enough groceries in your cart to feed the mouths and wipe the noses of everyone living within 50 miles. In fact, your cart is so heavy the wheels haven’t been spinning since the produce department. And if you stack one more Charleston Chew on the mound of groceries, someone from OSHA will appear and demand you wear a back brace while checking out.

Meanwhile, behind you in line, there's a guy buying the travel-size version of Connect Four, a box of Pop Tarts, and a single Yoo-hoo.

Just as you set your first item on the belt you glance backward and notice him. You smile and say, “Sir? Would you like to jump ahead?"

His mouth says, "Well, OK, I guess, if you're sure, why thank you." But his mind says, "Sweet Granola, yes! Thanks, lady!"

You, dear shopper, have just performed a Seventeen Second Miracle.

You and your family are walking into a restaurant or your favorite fast food spot and you see an elderly person eating alone. You ask if they'd like some company and they say yes.

You, fine diner, just performed a Seventeen Second Miracle.

You opened a door for someone? That’s also a Seventeen Second Miracle.

Befriended the new kid at school? There’s another.

Loan someone $5 for lunch? You get the picture. There are opportunities to perform daily miracles all around us. But are we seeing them?

I was fortunate to grow up in a home with a father was constantly looked for opportunities to serve others. Hardly a day passed without him performing some unscheduled act of kindness, some Seventeen Second Miracle for someone in his path.

Earlier this year I set out to write a novel that could give life to these acts of service, these daily miracles. I based the novel in my hometown, Charlottesville, Virginia, and unfolded the action on the same streets and around the familiar landmarks where I saw my father perform countless service miracles.

The novel, of course, is a work of fiction and my father never referred to his knack for service as Seventeen Second Miracles. And, frankly, if he were alive today to give me an earful, he probably would. He didn’t live his life for credit or accolades.

So why seventeen seconds? I’ve come to believe that in many cases that’s all it takes to change the course of someone’s day. Too often we think of how life can turn tragic in a matter of seconds: Car accidents, drownings, bad news from the doctor. But can’t life also turn for the better in the same blink of an eye?

Opening a door takes five seconds, saying hello to the new kid might take ten, and changing a tire might just take twenty minutes. But those are the very best kinds of service. No grade, no ribbon, no certificate. You get nothing but the sweet satisfaction that this time, at least on this occasion, you had your eyes open.

I like to say that with each book I’ve written I’ve taught myself something I’ve long needed to learn. In crafting The Seventeen Second Miracle, I learned that life isn’t so much about the grand organized service projects we undertake at church, school, or in our neighborhoods. They have their value, naturally, but I think a long life’s quilt is made up of much smaller pieces. It’s those few seconds here and there each and everyday that define who we are.

I wish I could say I’m the perfect ambassador for the Seventeen Second Miracle. I’m not. I’m simply thankful that I’m surrounded by generous people who are far greater examples of the power of simple service than I’ll ever be. If my parents, my wife, and my siblings all play professionally in the service big leagues, unceasing in their desire to lighten someone’s burden, then I’m in the pee wee division just hoping someone brought the juice boxes and fruit snacks. Yes, I’ve got a long, long way to go.

Now as I embark on another book tour I’m excited to meet people from Salt Lake to Charlottesville and to hear their experiences. Call them what you like, but every single one of us has been the beneficiary of a daily miracle, a moment of unexpected kindness from someone living their life with their eyes wide open.

So the challenge is this: Will you pledge to perform a daily Seventeen Second Miracle?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Wright Words: Saying 'yes' to the green toy ball meetings

I love most Sunday afternoons.

There is nothing quite like coming home after church and knowing that until Monday morning, if you choose, the world exists exclusively inside your home.

Like many of you, we don't shop or eat out on Sundays, and we generally stay close to home base.

Sometimes we'll travel to visit a relative or share dinner with family or friends, but even in those activities, we do our best to treat it as a day of rest. Admittedly, we're not always successful, but we recognize our failures and constantly work toward a better understanding and a tighter embrace of the Sabbath. After years of far-too-casual treatment of his day, it's become a high priority for our family.

If you're actively involved in any church, you know that Sundays are not always strictly for worship. They're also a common day for the administration of church affairs. There are often planning or finance meetings, myriad committees, scheduling sessions and more.

The business of doing God's work, no matter your religion, unavoidably requires us to dip our foot in the world's pool of paperwork, assignments and administration.

My current volunteer assignment in the LDS Church is to serve as the president of the young men's organization covering 11 congregations in the Winchester, Va., area. Every week I have the opportunity to meet, fellowship and teach young men 12 to 18 years old in wonderful places like Woodstock, Front Royal and Berryville. I've never had so much fun serving in church.

This particular assignment, like many others, requires a number of meetings to ensure the needs of the young men in our area are being met.

Are they growing closer to their Heavenly Father? Are they being spiritually fed each week in their respective congregations? What can we, as leaders, do to enhance their growth as men in the gospel of Jesus Christ?

These meetings, held at least once a month, also cover the nuts and bolts of leadership. What activities might we share with the young women?

Who's planning the barbecue next week? Who's designing the poster? Who's inviting the speaker to our next youth conference? Who should be assigned to this or that new committee?

These are important decisions made in important meetings by people with important responsibilities. These sessions are usually enjoyable and productive. I value them and the people who sacrifice to attend.

On a recent Sunday, my family returned from church with fewer scars than normal. There was no pushing, biting or screaming. No animal cracker wars. No shoes tossed three pews forward. It was a complete, and rare, peaceful and successful trip to worship in the church we love so dearly.

After mom's famous nachos for lunch and a quick discussion about the busy week ahead — we call it Family Council in the tradition of my own mom and dad — the kids disappeared to read, color, play with toys, etc.

My youngest went to his room to play with his treasure-of-the-moment, a green toy ball he'd been carrying and sleeping with for days.

As for my wife and me, we found ourselves sitting in the living room rehashing the morning at church and enjoying the unusually quiet Sabbath afternoon.

Then I looked at my watch.

"You have a meeting today, don't you?" she asked.

Sigh. "I do."

"All the way at the chapel in Winchester?" It was another question she already knew the answer to. She also knew very well it's a 40-minute round-trip drive.


"You need to be there?"

"I do."

And with that I stood up, slowly retied my tie, and trudged back upstairs to retrieve the suit coat I'd tossed upon the bed.

Then it happened.

As I walked back out of my room, my 3-year-old son met me in the doorway. He was wearing his favorite crocodile shirt with red flannel snapping jaws and green shorts. "Where are you going?" he asked.

"I have a meeting, bud."

"A meeting?"

"Yes, a church meeting. I'll be home tonight."

Then with pure childlike innocence he pulled his green toy ball from his pocket and said, "But there's a meeting in my room, Daddy."

"There is?" The lump in my throat felt like an 8-pound bowling ball.

"Yes," he said. "It's a green toy ball meeting. And it's reaaaaaally important."

Ouch. Make that 12 pounds.

I knelt down and he opened his skinny fingers, one of them sticky with leftover nacho cheese. In his palm he held his prized green toy ball.

Looking back, I sure wish I'd said something profound. Instead, with tears racing to form drops and a pit in my stomach, I simply gave him a hug and promised to be home by bedtime. Then I closed his fingers back around the ball, patted his lowered head and sank down the stairs.

Ten minutes later, I rolled out of the driveway and headed to a meeting I hardly remember attending. I'm sure it was productive, and I'm sure important decisions were made.

I've thought of that afternoon almost every afternoon since. I love my church responsibilities and the opportunities I have to serve the Lord and the youths around me. Serving them brings me closer to him. Of that I have no doubt.

But what happens when the meetings and planning and planning more meetings becomes more important than the people we serve? At what point do I — or you — allow those we love the most to become low priority items on life's agenda?

I love the Lord. I love his gospel. I love the people with whom I worship every week. I'm especially grateful for the amazing young men I work so closely with and for whom I pray for their success and well-being.

But in the very end, when the meetings have concluded and the benedictions have been said, when the only one across the table is the Judge, the Holy One, the Redeemer of Mankind, I suspect my attendance at the administrative councils of life and religion will matter much less than the number of times I said "yes" to the green toy ball meetings.

I can't wait for the next one.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Guess the number, win a copy of The Seventeen Second Miracle

Exactly two weeks to go until the release of The Seventeen Second Miracle. No better way to celebrate than to give away an advance copy.

Inside this jar are wrist bands that say, "I believe in the Seventeen Second Miracle." (click on image to enlarge)

Guess how many bands are in the jar. Closest to the actual number (without going over) wins a book and a band. Be sure to include name and city/state.

Check back tomorrow for results. Good luck!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Want an advance copy of SSM?

To celebrate my Seventeenth Anniversary during the month the Seventeen Second Miracle is released, let's give away another advance copy of the book.

In the comments below, tell me in exactly seventeen words why you deserve the advance, VIP copy. Good luck!

As always, include your first name, city and state. (Those don't count against your 17 words.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The joy of inside jokes

Recently a few friends and I have been harassing another friend, Matt, about his "Facebook negligence," specifically the fact that Matt last updated his status nearly one year ago. So we took a vote to decide whether or not to "defriend" Matt as a sign of solidarity. It was, of course, all tongue-in-cheek.

The decision over whether to "defriend" him came down to a single tie-breaking vote. The man who cast the deciding vote chose to announce his decision via YouTube this morning in the tradition of LeBron James.

You certainly won't find it as funny as we did, but it might be worth a chuckle or two. (As for me, I laughed so hard my face hurt and my tear ducts ran dry.)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Wright Words: The Power of Praise

I was in the third grade when I first realized I wanted to be a writer when I grew up.

My teacher, the lovely and kind Mrs. Sampson, took time on a Friday afternoon to teach us the format for writing a skit and we were assigned the simple task of drafting a one-page conversation between two characters. Character name on left, dialogue on right, easy enough.

By the time the bell sent us scrambling to the buses, mine was five pages long. I handed it to Mrs. Sampson and stood on the toes on my dirty Converse tennis shoes, elbows resting on the edge of her desk, eyes locked on her face and tuned in for any reaction.

The play, no longer just a skit, was titled Molly and Polly. It was a gripping, thrilling adventure starring two leather-jacket-motorcycle-riding bunny rabbits whose mission was to cruise the countryside and solve crime.

When Mrs. Sampson finished, she looked up at me with her wise eyes and said sweetly, "Jason, this is really good. You should do more of this."

To say a light bulb popped on in my head would be too understated. It was more like a mushroom cloud, but without the long nuclear winter.

I went home that afternoon, barricaded myself in my room, and channeled Shakespeare all weekend long. I pumped out one Molly and Polly adventure after another, appearing downstairs only long enough for a quick trip to church and refills on Little Debbie Oatmeal Cream Pies and milk.

When Monday morning arrived, I staggered out of my bedroom in a robe with three days of an imagined third-grade beard and smelling an awful lot like my socks. Later, still glassy-eyed, I strolled Mrs. Sampson's classroom and with a giant heave plopped a stack of plays of her desk. "Here you go!" I said. "Will you read these?"

"What's this?"

"It's a whole series of Molly and Polly plays. You told me to do more of this."

She looked at me so kindly, with so much love in her eyes, and said, "Oh, Dear. I didn't mean so soon."

And that was the beginning. I submitted my first manuscript for publication in 1982. I was 11. A few weeks later I received a postcard from Random House thanking me and saying my manuscript had been received and was under consideration.

Under consideration!

I walked with serious swagger around middle school for a month telling people I had a manuscript under consideration at Random House. Girls were impressed, boys jealous, and teachers unbelievably patient. Each adult wished me well and told me that no matter what, they believed in me.

I still have that postcard today. It is a cherished memory of a dream-filled childhood.

What I don't have is a rejection letter. I don't recall ever receiving one. Perhaps I did and blocked it out in the shadows of ambition. Maybe, but I prefer to think I never got one because it's still under consideration.

Under consideration!          

Five years later my father died. I coped by wearing his old London Fog overcoat and writing poetry. Bad poetry. Poetry so lousy it literally pains me to read it today. But while none of it was very good, all of it was instrumental in helping me feel whole again.

After a poetry unit in Mr. Seaman's eleventh grade English class, I handed another thick stack of work to my teacher and asked if he'd read them. A week later he handed them back in a manila folder.

"What did you think?" I asked.

"Some of them are quite good, Jason, you should really consider publishing these someday."


"Sure. I believe in you. You should believe in you, too."

I raced home after school and announced, "Mother, my English teacher says I should publish a book of my poetry."

Getting Mom's support was the easy part, but getting a publishing deal for a volume of bad poetry proved impossible. Thankfully it didn't take long to convince my mother/agent/editor the only path to publication was doing it ourselves.

So during the summer of 1988 I laid out the book, took moody black and white photos to accompany the lousy poetry, found a local printer, and together we made history.

I'll never forget calling the local newspaper and TV station and in a well-rehearsed New York accent saying, "Hey guess what, there's a kid in town, I think he's 17, anyway he's got a book of poetry coming out, can you believe it? He's just a kid! You might want to do a story."

24-hours later I was on the 6:00 PM news and on the front page of my local paper. By the end of the week I'd supplied copies of my writing debut, Sitting on the Dock, to all the local book and gift shops.

All because a third-grade teacher on a random Friday afternoon said, "You should do more of this."

The journey since has been anything but a straight line to success. There have been failures, some of them colossal. There have been successes, all of them gratifying and humbling. But no matter what, at every step along the way, there has been someone to say: "You can do this, you have potential, keep trying, I have faith in you, I believe in you, you should do more of this, it's fine to make mistakes because I'll be there to help you do it better next time."

And they were.

I've often wondered where I'd be without Mrs. Sampson, Mr. Seaman, my parents, siblings and countless other teachers and mentors who praised when I needed praise, corrected when I needed correction, and guided when I needed it most.

Too many of these positive influences have drifted out of my life, across the country, across the universe or across the divide from this life and what awaits. Today I'm left with memories of their faith and with a charge to believe in others as much as they believed in me.

So you know that thing you're good at? That thing you love? That thing that makes you feel alive and productive and valuable and divine?

You should do more of it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Win an ARC of The Seventeen Second Miracle

There are a few key moments in the publication of a book that are exciting milestones for an author. One of those is the day the advance copies land on your doorstep. It's not the final book as it will later appear in stores around the country, but it's pretty darn close. These advance reader copies or ARC's are meant to plant seeds, encourage a nice blurb or two, and generally build buzz.

A few days ago a box arrived on doorstep containing a small stash of ARC's of my fall title, The Seventeen Second Miracle. It's a thrill to see the cover and know we're that much closer to the release on September 28th.

So, want to win the first signed copy?

In the comments section below, tell me why you deserve a free book. Be creative, funny, whatever! There is only one rule, your entry must be exactly 17 words long. Please also include your name and city/state.

Winner will be announced Monday July 26th. Good luck!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Seventeen Second Miracle has a cover!

It's always such a thrill to see my book covers for the first time! Isn't it gorgeous?

Too often the designers don't get credit for their awesome work. Would you consider leaving a note for the fantastic team at Penguin/Berkley who designed the cover for The Seventeen Second Miracle?

And by the way, the book will be on shelves September 28th!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Wright Words: I miss my dad, and that's OK

It started as a journal entry, became something I read aloud at an event in Winchester, VA, and now has become my latest syndicated column. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Wright Words: I miss my dad, and that's OK

My father died when I was 16 after a second bruising round with cancer.

He'd beaten it once four years earlier, only to watch it come back in a different place.

He died on a Friday night in a big hospital bed with me and two of my siblings racing to get there on time. We didn't.

There is a debate as old as time about which is more difficult and which is preferred: To lose a loved one suddenly, in instantaneous ways like car accidents, plane crashes, or in some other suddenly-your-life-is-very-different sort of moment. Sadly you don't have a chance to say goodbye or I'm sorry or I'll see you soon.

Or is it easier in the long-steps way, where you watch your loved one slowly fade from this life to the next, often in pain, sometimes great pain, sometimes straddling the veil? Yes, sometimes it's a painful goodbye. But it is, if nothing else, a chance to say goodbye.

I've had that debate myself, and I never come to any conclusion about which is easier, which hurts less.

I only decide in my mind that I had a little bit of both. I knew because he'd had cancer four years earlier that it could return. But on the other hand, on the night he died in the hospital waiting for another scheduled surgery, it felt like he'd been taken in an instant, a tragedy unforeseen, unpredicted. And certainly I was unprepared; I never saw it coming.

Maybe more than anything I've just decided that what happened, happened. I can't change it, and that's OK.

It wouldn't change the fact that I still miss my dad, even now, 20 years later. Or that I would still miss him a little bit every single day. It also wouldn't change the fact that at every baby birth, every soccer game, every graduation ceremony, I still close my eyes and wish that he were next to me. And, well, that's OK.

My father wasn't a perfect man. He was a terrible golfer, terrible. Seriously, I think there are still courses where his photo is up in the clubhouse. Not for having the course record, but because if he walks in someone is supposed to call security immediately.

No, he wasn't perfect. He raised his voice from time to time; he liked to burp the alphabet; he punished me when I felt like I didn't deserve to be punished. There was advice he gave that I probably didn't need, and other advice that I did need that he didn't share. Perhaps he didn't think I was ready for it.

So he wasn't a perfect man. So what? For me, he was the perfect dad, and there's nothing I wish he'd done any differently expect perhaps linger a little longer on this side. But he didn't. He went when he was called, of course he did, and that's OK.

Some people choose to remember their loved ones who've left this earth through this lens of perfection, where their flaws and faults are edged away, polished by time and scrapbooks, like the rough corners of a block of wood on a sander's belt. You just hold it there long enough, close your eyes, and wait, maybe move it slightly with gentle pressure, and the rough edges will go away. Then what's remembered is that smooth, perfect edge, the edge of a dearly departed loved one's life.

I've chosen to remember my dad differently. I do remember the times that I became frustrated. The times he was impatient when we worked on my science fair projects or as he taught me to drive. And, of course, the times he banged his thumb, his knee, or his elbow and used words that made my mom shout "Willaaaard!" from across the house.

I remember him imperfectly because it gives me hope. I don't have to be the perfect dad to my kids. I just have to be the perfect dad for them.

I smile when I think of the spot of ground that is my father's final resting place. It is like most others, a marker on the surface of the earth that says, "Here they are, here's their name, here are the dates that matter, the day they punched in and the day they punched out."

Sometimes some of us spend time at that place. Mourning, remembering, talking, leaving flowers, notes or pebbles.

When my dad died I didn't go for quite some time, not until a friend finally convinced me it was time and offered to go along. I remember vividly how we kicked snow off markers until we found my dad's.

Honestly? I wished I'd gone a lot sooner and I've beaten myself up plenty about it through the years. But I didn't. And, finally, that's OK.

Sometimes people visit the cemetery often. Every day, every week, once a month, or once a year on the anniversary of their death, or their birth, or on the anniversary of their anniversary. And sometimes I have looked at those people and thought, "Oh, it's too much, too often, too unhealthy, they should move on."

But who are we to judge? If sitting on a patch of grass next to a marker on the ground or a granite tombstone six feet above the memories of a loved one brings them comfort and peace, then isn't that OK?

Some never go back. There are members of my family who haven't been to my dad's grave for years, despite living much closer that I do. They remember him in other ways and they say they know he isn't really there anyway. Instead he's doing some sort of important work on the other side and that is how they find peace and comfort. And what could be more OK than that?

So yes, I do miss my dad. And more than anything in the years since my dad said goodbye, I've learned that there is no right way or wrong way to grieve, there is only your way, and there is my way.

It's been more than 22 years since my father died. Twenty-two Christmases. 22 birthdays. 22 Father's Days. And, of course, countless rounds of bad golf never played.

But after 22 years, I'm no longer afraid to admit that I still miss my dad. And, well, that's OK.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Announcing the winner of my Editor-for-a-Day contest

Perhaps the most exciting contest I've ever held came to an end at 11:59 PM last night.

Who will be my first ever Editor-for-a-Day? Congratulations to... (drum roll, please)

Chris Dalton!

Chris built a healthy lead in the early weeks and held on for dear life as Cheryl Salzman closed quickly, trimming a lead of over 500 visits to less than 50 in just a week. Congrats Cheryl on closing strong and making Chris sweat his hard-fought victory.

As my exclusive Editor-for-a-Day, Chris will read my latest manuscript, The Seventeen Second Miracle, provide input and edits, and see his name in the acknowledgments.

Thank you to the hundreds of entrants who made this one of the most successful contests I've ever run, and congratulations to our top 25 finishers:

1. Chris Dalton (1,576 visits)
2. Cheryl Salzman (1,529 visits)
3. Stephanie Shirts Robinson
4. Patty Byrd
5. Lisa Kuper
6. Liz Frederick
7. Nancy Greenhouse
8. Sherry Booher Derby
9. Melissa Glad
10. Tabitha Andree
11. Jody Ayres
12. Lisa Sullivan
13. Jana Oomrigar
14. Sarah Van Dam
15. Liz Shoop
16. Christal Burnett
17. Dana Harold
18. Helena Reidhead
19. Paula Bryant
20. Sharen Clarke
21. Molly Edwards
22. Aimee Baldwin
23. Linda Evans
24. Tina Rinker
25. Larene Garlock

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

"Editor-for-a-Day" Contest Leader Board

With eleven days to go in my Editor-for-a-Day contest, I thought it was time to reveal our Top Eleven on the leaderboard out of hundreds of entries.

Here are your leaders as of 10:00 AM, EST today:

1. Chris Dalton
2. Cheryl Salzman
3. Patty Byrd
4. Lisa Kuper
5. Nancy Greenhouse
6. Stephanie Shirts Robinson
7. Sherry Booher Derby
8. Liz Frederick
9. Melissa Glad
10. Jody Ayres
11. Kathie Marshall

It's not too late! Keep those visits to your pages coming!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Angels Among Us: Not yet

A short and poignant note from another reader who believes the veil is thin.

Angels Among Us: He clearly whispered, "not yet"
Tony J.

When my Grandpa came home from the hospital for the last 4 days of his life in 2003, he spent the entire time in a hospital bed in his bedroom.  The last day or two, he didn't even talk.  The night he died, I just assumed it would be his last, so I sat in his bedroom with him for several hours.  At the time, I was the only other person in the room, but at one point he raised his hands in the air and clearly whispered "Not Yet".  He died a couple hours later.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Angels Among Us: Dad came to get mom

Another sweet story from a reader who agrees that there are certainly angels among us:

Angels Among Us: Dad came to get mom
Claudia C.

I had experiences with both my Father's passing and my Mother's. Dad came to get Mom. She had thrown up on her way back from the bathroom and then collapsed on the floor. The cute young girl who was taking care of her said that a nice looking dark headed man came into her room and said he was a family member came to get Lou. She told him she needed to clean her up and would be just a little while. He went out the door, but no one ever saw him again, and no one had signed the sign in log at the front door, as a visitor for her. The family all knows that it was Dad coming to take her with him. This has helped me to know that there is life beyond this one and that we will not be alone when our time comes.

Monday, April 26, 2010

A truly FAB book club shout-out

I don't normally do book club shout-outs, but not all book clubs are quite like this one!

It was a thrill today to chat by speaker phone with the FAB (Friends and Books) Book Club in University Place, Washington. I'd met two of the members at a signing last fall, and despite my efforts to scare them off, they contacted me anyway.

Today we discussed The Wednesday Letters and the club's ten gorgeous gals asked some really wonderful questions.

So thanks, ladies, for a swell time! Hope the salad was good ;-)

Friday, April 16, 2010

Wright Words: I am a Mormon

I am guilty of waiting. For much of my career I have shyly waited for people to ask my religion, waited for the subject to come up, waited to share what I hold most precious.

Because I enjoy weaving spiritual themes into my signings or during more formal speaking engagements, often someone will approach and ask what church I attend. I love the conversations that follow. Frankly, there isn’t much I'd rather talk about than the faith that in many ways defines me.

I am a Christian. I am an imperfect follower of a perfect Savior. I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Or, if you prefer the nickname sometimes used to describe members of the Church, I am a Mormon.

If you've read any of my novels, you know that I do not write books specifically about my religion. I write stories that contain the flavor of faith, but do not promote one religion over another. I write about broad themes important to all of us, no matter what church we call home.

I write about Christmas, forgiveness, redemption, family, marriage, charity, miracles, and life-after-death. Admittedly, I've learned and grown more from writing my own books than anyone ever will from reading them.

When I began my career as an author I was involved in frequent discussions about how prominent I should make my religion. Should we mention Brigham Young University in my bio? Should I reference my two-year mission to Brazil? Should we advertise that one of my two publishers is Salt Lake-based, home to Church headquarters and a high concentration of Mormons?

How shameful.

Five years and seven books later, I am ashamed those debates ever took place, and I accept that the blame rests on my shoulders alone. I am embarrassed that for years I simply wanted to be a New York Times bestselling author who you may or may not find out later just happens to be a Mormon. How shallow that I allowed the small percentage of consumers who won't buy a novel by a Mormon to dictate how I was introduced to readers.

Recently I stumbled across a blog that inferred a number of Mormon authors, including me, had been deceitful. The blogger complained that he never would have bought our books had he known we were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He even expressed pride at having uncovered the secret through a series of online searches and a complicated game of connect-the-dots. A modern-day Sherlock Holmes, no doubt.

This blogger's theory was that books like mine by Mormon authors, especially in the genre of inspirational fiction, are just thinly veiled attempts to spread our faith. He's half-right, at least in my case. I do hope my books spread my faith that God lives, that He loves us, and that the challenges we face everyday are universal and the occasionally painful lessons absolutely necessary to our growth.

But I also hope they are good ole fashioned page-turners that entertain and beg a second reading. If a reader wants to find inspiration and faith, that's wonderful. If a reader wants nothing more than to sit in a comfortable chair and escape life for a few hours, I'm just as thrilled.

In either case, in the future this well-meaning though misguided blogger won't have to don a black deerstalker hat to uncover my religion. I've added my faith to my website biography and press kits.

I wonder if this blogger or anyone else who won’t buy a work of Christian fiction by a Mormon knows just how much I appreciate his or her own religion. I have dear friends from all corners of religious faith and two of the most trusted people in my day-to-day career are Catholic and Jewish. One is my editor, the other my agent. I trust them both. I love them both.

I wonder if this blogger or anyone else who won’t buy a work of Christian fiction by a Mormon knows how many churches have invited me to speak in their chapels, sanctuaries, etc. Just this month alone I will speak in two Methodist churches and at Trinity Ecumenical Parish, a combined congregation of Episcopalians, Lutherans and Presbyterians. Next month I’ll speak to the Knights of Columbus and in years' past I've spoken to Baptists, Catholics and many more. I cherish those experiences more than any other.

Naturally it is important to know that I am not just a Mormon. I am proud to be a brother, husband, father-of-four, volunteer, neighbor, and friend. I am also a son of a loving Heavenly Father and the son of earthly parents who raised me to embrace my faith and to love the Lord and follow His example.

Perhaps I owe this blogger a thank you for jarring me from my quiet complaisance and for reminding me just how proud I am of my heritage, my faith, and the Church I love so dearly.

So, if you're reading this column and thinking, "I had no idea he was a Mormon," I sincerely apologize.

If you're reading this column and want to know more about what I believe, ask me. I’d love to tell you.

Finally, next time you're in a bookstore and you see a book with my name on the cover, it's buyer beware from this day forward: I am a Mormon.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Meeting the Harveys

This post begins the telling of one of the neatest stories in our lives. For those of you who have read The Cross Gardner, you will recall where they discuss an apple called the Ginger Gold and the story of how it came to be. For those who haven't had a chance to read the book, this will mean much more to you when you do. But in the meantime, here is one of the references from The Cross Gardener:


We chatted on the way about the history of apples in Virginia and how I ended up an orchardist. He was interested in the decision making Scott and I went through after Father’s death. Curious how often I saw my brother. Interested in Tim and whether I thought he might have ended up on the orchard someday.

The Cross Gardener had a way of making everything I said interesting. In his presence my stories and ideas were important. A rare talent, I thought.

“Here we are.” I pulled into the driveway and stopped just shy of the fence.

“Great fence,” he said. “I love picket fences. You build it yourself?”

“With my wife, yes.”


We got out of the truck and I led him down the closest row of apple trees. “There isn’t much to see by way of fruit, obviously, because the harvest is over.”

He reached down and picked up a rotting apple. “Why are there some on the ground?”

“If it’s a mature apple, which that one is, it probably fell during harvest. That happens a lot. Or it could have just fallen from an apple bin. That happens, too.”

“How long can it sit on the ground before it starts to rot?”

“Not long in Valley heat, that’s for sure.”

“And you don’t go by and pick them up?” He placed the apple back on the grass.

“Not usually. They can bruise if they fall. And no one wants a bruised apple.” We walked to another row.

“Are all these trees the same?”

“No, we try to alternate rows. A lot of orchards do. That first
row was Red Delicious. These are Ginger Golds.”

“Ginger Golds. So those aren’t red, one assumes?”

“One assumes correct.” I smiled. Standing there and looking at his curious eyes, almost childlike, I realized that I hadn’t told anyone about my favorite type of apple, or why it was my favorite, in a very long time.

“Ginger Golds are special.” I looked to the end of the long row of appleless trees. “They’re also the first we harvest. These were picked before Emma Jane, my wife, died.”

“I see why they’re your favorite then.”

“It’s not just that, they’ve always been my favorite apple. The Ginger Gold is a result of Hurricane Camille back in the sixties. Nineteen sixty-nine to be exact. The hurricane about washed away the orchard of a man named Clyde Harvey. Almost nothing left but devastation. Some time later when they were saving what trees they could, they came across a tree Mr. Harvey hadn’t ever seen before. It produced a yellow fruit instead of the red on the other trees around it. Eventually they planted more of them and he named it for his wife, Ginger.”

“Thus, the Ginger Gold,” the Cross Gardener said.

“That’s right.”

“What a miracle that something so sweet, something that brings joy to many, came from something as tragic as a hurricane. That’s lovely. One of the sweetest things I’ve heard.”

Back at the end of March the Barnes and Noble in Charlottesville, VA held a discussion and book signing for The Cross Gardner.

Among those in attendance were three very lovely and special ladies: Ginger, Gayle and Debbie Harvey.

Now let me tell you a little bit about these amazing ladies. Ginger Harvey is a beautiful woman inside and out. She is married to the late Clyde Harvey and has two equally beautiful daughters, Gayle and Debbie.

The Harveys owned an orchard in Central Virginia for many years. During their time in the apple world they experienced something not many ever do. They nearly lost the entire orchard to the floods brought on by Hurricane Camille.

There was much tragedy in their little valley, but as they began the recovery process they found a young tree that was not familiar to them. It turns out the tragedy of the floods had brought them a special "Gift from God," as Ginger likes to say. The Harvey family was blessed with a one-of-a-kind tree produced entirely by God and Mother Nature. It yielded a beautiful, tasty apple which later became known as the Ginger Gold.

After meeting the Harveys at the book signing we were eager to spend some time with them. Just last week Gayle and Ginger made the drive up to the Valley to see the orchard that inspired the story.

Meet Tracy, the talented orchardist who shared his knowledge with Jason.

After saying goodbye and sending them on their way, Jason and I kept saying to each other, "How cool is it to meet someone who has an apple named after her growing right now on trees all around the world?"

We feel so honored to know them and we look forward to a long and fruitful (LOL) friendship.