He Is Not Here…

by Russ Hill on March 21, 2014

The tents are up.

The sleeping bags are strewn along the ground.

The smoke from the last few embers is still billowing up from the fire.

The campsite is empty.

I can see it.  The scene sits perfectly undisturbed in my mind.

As I came upon it my heart was racing.  My feet were moving quickly.  My eyes were laser-focused.  I moved with purpose.

To be candid, I was surprised and disappointed when the others I came upon near this makeshift campsite in a huge front yard were spending time hugging rather than searching.

Why were the officers positioned around the massive fleet with flashing lights standing?  Shouldn’t they be running?

Where was the urgency?  The drive?  The hope?  The determination?

One of our boys was missing.

One of our boys.

Then in the distance I could see his father.  His eyes met mine and we both headed toward each other.

His eyes.  I will never forget them as long as I live.  Sometimes you can look in someone’s eyes and see everything they are thinking and feeling.

His were full of tears.  In them I saw heartbreak.  Desperation.  Immeasurable loss.

As we stood and embraced and he sobbed my eyes remained dry.  His resignation was not a feeling I shared.  I told him that I could have hundreds of people from the church we both attend here within minutes to search for his son if he would allow it.

He declined and said he needed to show me the footprints.

Over the next few minutes he walked me along his expansive property and showed me where his boy had made his way through a hole in the fence and up the hill on the adjoining property to a large canal that brings drinking water from the mountains to the desert.  Then, on the banks of the canal he showed me the displaced dirt where he believed his son had sat down and scurried his way into the water.

This father pointed to where he had retrieved the family dog from the water.  And, he told me of his boy’s love for his dog.  How inseparable they were.

He spoke of how he, his wife, and the scouts who had spent the night in his yard had desperately and unsuccessfully searched for his son.

Now, divers from the police department were putting on their scuba gear.

As the father was pulled away by a police officer I walked away to be alone.  I was discouraged but not convinced.  Wasn’t a larger search needed?  What if he hadn’t gone in the water?  I felt the weight of being the person on scene responsible for deciding whether to mobilize thousands of members of my church.  Didn’t this boy deserve it?

I found a spot on the dirt road next to the canal. And prayed.

In an instant and totally contrary to my mindset at the moment I felt urgency give way to peace.  And suddenly a scripture dominated my thinking.

“Why seek ye the living among the dead?”

My phone rang.  My oldest son called from the car my wife was driving.  He wanted to know where our family could join the search.  I found myself telling them to turn around and head home.

“Now, upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came upon the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre.

And they entered in, and found not the body of the Lord Jesus.

And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:

And as they were afraid, and bowed down their faces to the earth, they said unto them, Why seek ye the living among the dead?

He is not here, but is risen.”

- Luke 24:1-6

This evening I will walk by the casket of one of our boys.

I, along with hundreds of others, will pause for a moment to pay respect to this innocent, energetic, happy, and friendly young man.

I will be thinking about his parents.  Like I have been all week.

Near the site where those tents used to stand I stood quietly watching these parents in the hours immediately after the divers recovered their son’s body.

I watched as a steady stream of moms with children parked their cars and with limited confidence made their way onto this family’s property.  They meekly approached the parents bearing flowers or baked goods to express love and loss.

Without fail these compassionate visitors who came to express support instead found themselves sobbing as they were embraced by the parents.  Those who came to lift were instead the ones being buoyed up.

As I stood there in the moonlight watching this happen I realized why God picked these two people to raise and care for Carvel Scott Jackson Udall.

We promise to honor your memory, CJ.  We promise to work hard to have our lives reflect the lessons you tried to teach us.

We’ll smile more.  We’ll laugh more.  We’ll have more energy.  We’ll work to be a friend to everyone.  We’ll care less about what others think about us.  We’ll try to unite others.  We’ll stand more frequently to declare what we believe.

We’ll try to be more inseparable from those we love.

We’ll explore more.

Learn more about CJ Udall / Donate to his memorial fund

Let Them In

by Russ Hill on January 29, 2014

I don’t remember what started the conversation that night.

I was a teenager.  And my mom realized I was in pain.  Something now long forgotten had made me sad.  My mom decided I needed to learn a lesson.

She was sitting on our obnoxious dark blue floral print couch in the living room with a blanket over her legs and a book in her lap.

“Son, you’ve always had a sensitive personality,” she said.  “You allow people to get very close to you.  It’s important for you to know that living that way brings with it a big risk.”

“By allowing others deep into your life you’ll be able to form relationships that most people never experience.  Those deeper connections will bring joy and love that few people ever feel,” she said.

“But, granting people that kind of access to you allows them the opportunity to severely hurt you.  There will come times when you will feel a pain few people ever experience,” she warned.

“Russell, you’re old enough now to decide whether the joy is worth the pain.  Are you going to keep letting people in that deep or not?  You need to decide.”

And, with that the conversation was over.

I walked up the carpeted stairs and headed to the back corner of the house to my room.

Mothers often feel like no one is listening to them.  The great challenge of their work is that they have to wait so long for their compensation.

Tonight, as I type on this keyboard sitting on a nearly empty dark plane flying high above western states I am thinking about that conversation with my mom decades ago.

Her challenge to me that night has never left me.  My decision on how to live my life wasn’t made in one moment.  It developed over years.  It happened as I left home as a teenager and began my journey through this big and scary world.

On my journey I have discovered places I never knew existed.  It took me many years to gain the vision necessary to see them.  Some of you have found them.  Others will have no idea what I’m talking about.

Dark AlleyThey are the dark alleys of life.

I’ve discovered that the people who live in these dark alleys are the people my mom was talking about on that night long ago. They are those who let someone deep into their lives.  They placed great trust in someone.  They loved someone.  They invested everything they have and everything they are in someone.

And, something went terribly wrong.

The very person they allowed direct access to their heart shattered it.  Now they have nothing left but a deep wound that refuses to heal.

Being hurt always causes us to retreat.  Usually, it’s temporary.  But, the pain I’m talking about is so profound that it has sent these individuals into hiding.  They have retreated to the shadows.  And they run whenever anyone tries to let in light.

Every once in a while they gain just enough courage or hope to come out of the shadows.  They desperately want and need to grant someone access to their soul again.  But, then they glance down at their open wound.

And run.

Ever since I was asked to serve in a leadership position in my church I have spent a considerable amount of time walking these lonely alleys.

I have come to learn the pain that comes in searching the shadows.  Those who hide in the alleys often inflict injury on anyone who seeks to bring light into their lives. They do it out of fear.  Fear that they simply do not have what it takes to live outside the alleys again.

To those trying to help someone in the shadows I cannot adequately communicate how much I respect you.  I have gained some insight into the pain that comes from your efforts.  I have seen enough to know of your exhaustion.  Your disappointment.  Your struggle to maintain hope.

The reward for walking the alleys rarely comes in words of gratitude from those who’ve been helped to the light.  I’m slowly learning to stop seeking it there although that’s easier said than done.

The joy comes in moments.  Moments when we are able to see someone who has been hiding in the shadows for years get the courage to come out and stand in brilliant sunshine and smile.  Those brief moments bring to those who witness them a sweetness that my vocabulary cannot describe.  Oh, how we wish they would last longer than a fleeting moment.  For some that dream will become reality. Until then, we must bask in those brief moments of light.

To those reading this post who are living in the alleys I plead with you to stop running.  And, hiding.  Please stop suspecting that everyone in your life will eventually hurt you the way you’ve been hurt before.  Stop punishing those who seek to help you.  I know it takes courage.  Go slow but please come into the light.  You can experience joy again in your life.  You can escape the shadows.  The people in your life need you to go to the light.  Get on your knees and you will gain strength from above.

To those who can’t see the alleys I realize this blog post is nothing but confusing.  Eventually your vision will change as you gain life experience.  Others of you are only pretending you can’t see them.  Your life is easier as a result.  But it is also of less consequence.

The reality is my mom was right.

I had no idea the pain she mentioned was actually that sharp.  That it could make it difficult to breathe.  To get out of bed.  To function.

And, I had no idea the joy was that sweet.  That it could feel that good.  That it could bring such a deeper meaning to life.

To anyone considering their own response to the question my mom posed to me I say… Let them in.

I’ve come to firmly believe the joy is worth the pain.

The Longest Walk

November 22, 2013

Last night after a long stretch of meetings I got in my car and headed over to a townhouse in a nearby neighborhood.  When I got there I was greeted by a small group of teenagers preparing to say goodbye to the 18-year-old young man I had come to see. This would the last night […]

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When Your Boat Starts to Sink

August 15, 2013

The clouds appeared to be thinning and the lightning seemed to have stopped. The teenagers who had just unloaded from the SUVs pointed to the improving weather in their lobbying for heading to the water. I hesitated but told them I’d drive down to the ramp and see if the lake had calmed down enough […]

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Turn Off the Noise

July 21, 2013

I have been thinking a lot lately about one of the greatest obstacles in life. Every good thing I have accomplished has been a result of overcoming this obstacle. In the business world I can separate the good from the great by simply applying the filter of who is disciplined in this area. In the […]

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Take a position!

April 24, 2013

I remember his suspenders.  And his endless pacing. He made you wonder if he forgot to stop by the bathroom before his presentation. Every time he came to town he insisted on having an entire box full of new markers and three easels at the front of the room.  And those large sticky pads of […]

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Tell Me Your Story

April 17, 2013

“Everyone has a story.” I had a professor in college who tried to teach me that. He constantly told our class of young wanna-be news reporters that everyone we met had a story.  It was our job to find the story within them. He claimed that’s what the best reporters do. Tonight I ate dinner […]

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Did I Just Become Captain of the Titanic?

April 8, 2013

I took the job because it provided me a much bigger stage. Some thought I was crazy.  But I saw opportunity. I was trading my position of second in command at the number one news station in Salt Lake City for the top job in the newsroom of the formerly dominant, but now hemorrhaging KTAR in Phoenix. […]

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An Open Letter to My Critics

March 25, 2013

The truth is you’ve existed as long as I have. I didn’t realize you were there until my early teenage years.  It was then I began to hear your whisperings. As I’ve gotten older you seem to have multiplied.  Like mosquitos or scorpions do. You’ve followed me wherever I’ve lived, studied, worked, worshipped, or played. […]

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Confessions of a Mormon Bishop

March 19, 2013

I pulled into my driveway at 12:30 this morning. I sat in the car in front of our dark house for a few minutes.  Everyone inside was asleep.  The whole neighborhood was still.  And yet my mind was racing.  So many questions.  So many emotions.  Sadness.  Hope.  Inadequacy. Welcome to the life of a Mormon […]

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