Dark of Night

I’m not a real photographer, but I sometimes play one while I’m on vacation.  Or at least I did last week.

The whole thing started a few months back as I was staring at one of those night-sky photographs.  You know the kind.  A billion stars twinkling as the Milky Way clusters together like a ritzy jewel.  The image practically pops off the page.  So, I’m looking at one of those, and I suddenly think to myself:  Somebody took that picture.  Why can’t I take one just like it?

Thus started one of those weird, manic obsessions that sometimes grip me, and there was no going back.  I read articles about night-sky photography.  I studied camera settings and specs.  I set a date (right during our family reunion trip to my in-laws’ Missouri farm).  And I agonized over location.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  I couldn’t stop talking about.

I loaded up a tripod, a flashlight, and our trusty old Olympus camera.  I rented the lens I needed from a local camera shop.

Our first night in Missouri, I set up in my in-laws’ blueberry field around midnight.  Even down there in the relative isolation, nearby Monett gives off a glow in the east, which didn’t help my cause, but I had to try.  I pointed my camera to the southeast and went to work.

At first, it seemed pretty hopeless, and then I noticed the camera was picking up a glimmer of something I wasn’t catching with the naked eye.  Could it be?

I kept shooting.  I refined my angle and my camera settings.  City lights be danged.  I had it, all right.  The pictures weren’t pristine, but it’s hard to overstate the thrill I felt as the Milky Way came into focus.

Eventually, my eyes adjusted enough to make out the milky glow on their own.  That’s when I knew exactly where to go with the camera.  I stayed out there for a couple hours.  Then I packed up my things and headed back.  I stopped to take another shot over the top of an old pickup truck.

I stopped again for another right over the top of my in-laws’ house.

Finally, I took one last shot from the end of the road.

I got back to the house where we were staying sometime around 2:30 a.m., rousing the farm dogs in the process.  My brother-in-law had locked me out, so I called Sara and woke her up.  She saved me from having to spend the rest of the night on the front porch.

Two nights later, I was at it again.  Sara and I left the kids with family, and we trekked two hours south on winding roads to Steel Creek Campground at Buffalo National River in Arkansas.  Darksitefinder.com said Buffalo National River was going to give me the black sky I craved.

When we pulled up, however, I was concerned.  High bluffs on one end.  Tall trees on the other.  Snapping that perfect photograph was going to be more complicated than I’d hoped.  Sara and I claimed our camping spot, set up our tent, and then hiked down to the river.

The river.  I was saved.  The riverbank provided a clearing toward the south.  It would be just the place to set up my tripod when the time was right.

We went back to our campsite, got the fire going, roasted some hotdogs, threw the football, and read until sunset.  Then Sara went to bed early in anticipation of a long night.

Meanwhile, I sat out in a camp chair and watched the show unfold.  Darksitefinder.com didn’t lie.  Buffalo National River treated me to one of the darkest night skies I’ve ever experienced.  I waited there in wonder and awe, developing a serious crick in my neck from tilting my head back.  It was an absolute spiritual experience to be under that sky.  The wonder of creation was in full bloom.

I woke Sara just before midnight, and the two of us stumbled out through the trees in the pitch black.  We somehow found the riverbank.  This time, I had no trouble whatsoever spotting the Milky Way with the naked eye.  I set up the camera, pointed it toward the south, and got started.  The first shot gave me hope for great things to come, but partway through the session I noticed brown streaks in the photographs.  Cloud cover or some sort of river mist was marring the images.

We moved about that rocky bank multiple times as I sought to compose the perfect shot, but I never quite got it.  All the while, Sara and I heard an unseen creature splashing about in the water nearby.  (I later joked it was Gollum.  Nothing ever attacked or ate us, but I do think Gollum threw off my groove just a bit.)

Around 2:45 a.m., Sara had had enough, and I decided I’d done the best I could.  I packed up the camera, and the two of us tromped back up to our campsite.  As Sara drifted off to sleep in our tent, I flipped through the images I’d captured and quickly realized I wasn’t satisfied with any of them.  Frustrated, I put the camera away and headed off to find the restroom.

As I stepped out of the tent, I looked up, and there it was in all its glory – hanging above the tree line.  That glow stretched all the way across the sky like nothing I’d ever seen before.  As I made a hasty trip to the restroom and back, I knew what I needed to do.  This was my chance.

I set the camera up again – this time near our tent – aimed it high, and proceeded to capture the best images of the entire trip.  By 3:30 a.m., I was a happy man.  I got the pictures I wanted. For those of you keeping score at home, I used a twenty-five-second shutter speed, f/2.8 aperture, and 2500 ISO.

What an adventure.  I’m looking forward to the next one.  There’s so much more for me to learn and so many more pictures to take.  Western Nebraska’s dark skies are calling.  I guess I’ll see you … out there.


Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and their six children.  He enjoys stories by Ray Bradbury, starry night skies, and cherry limeade.  Chris is also the author of Red: A Football Novel as well as other books and poetry.

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Great Among You

“Behind every great man in the Church is a great woman.”

You’ve heard it a thousand times before.  I know I have, and I confess that for most of my life those words seemed pretty, well, trite.  Call me insensitive, but I used to brush the saying off as nothing more than a ponderous platitude.

I’m sorry for that.  I once was blind, but now I see …

For the most part, we do a commendable job in The Church of Jesus Christ of honoring and sustaining our priesthood leaders.  We love the men who preside.  Many of those men are some of my best friends and biggest heroes.  They deserve our respect, and they generally get their due.  Their talents and contributions are at the forefront of everything.

What I’ve learned in my old age, however, what I’m perhaps only beginning to understand, is that the wives of those men are every bit as talented, every bit as dynamic, every bit as faith-filled – probably more so – than their husbands, and in The Church of Jesus Christ we could all do a better job of acknowledging that fact.

The only reason these women can be said to be standing behind their husbands at all is because that’s precisely where they want to be.  (Never mind that behind is the ideal place from which to, on occasion, hold their husbands back to prevent them from falling flat on their faces.)  The reality is the women actually walk beside their husbands – or quite possibly ten steps ahead.

These dear sisters don’t desire recognition, but I do fear that too often they feel a bit lonely, a bit lost, a bit underconfident.  Too often we take them for granted while we lavish their husbands with praise.

So, today I want to do a small something to make amends.  Today I say to these great women, “We see you, we appreciate you, and we care about you too.  Your contribution is invaluable.”

As the Savior Himself taught:  “… whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be the servant of all.”

Chief among us then are these elect ladies, these sometimes “priesthood widows,” who selflessly toil and minister in the background, never seeking praise or accolades.  That’s something the world, with all its bells and whistles, will never understand.  But we should.

So, the next time you see one of these great women, you might thank her for her goodness and her sacrifice.

“Behind (or beside or up ahead of) every great man in the Church is a great woman.”

Trite?  Never.  True?  You bet.


Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska.  His angel mother writes poetry like Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost wrapped into one.  His angel mother-in-law never says anything unkind about anyone ever – even and especially when they deserve it.  His angel wife is a charming soul who can go from zero to best friend with complete strangers in under two minutes.  Chris is blessed.

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Justice

“Wait, uh, what?”

That was the typical response I got way back in 2003 when I told people this mild-mannered Seifert guy was planning to go to law school.  Likewise, that was the typical response I got way back in 2006 when, as a third-year law student, I told people I wanted to be a prosecutor.

Really?”

“Yeah, really.”

And that’s what I did.

I don’t usually talk about my job in this space.  Mostly, I’d rather talk about anything but my job in this space, but lately I’ve been thinking about justice.  It’s a big topic and a big reason why I do what I do.

Our justice system is a marvel to behold.  As with anything, there are flaws, but it’s also one of the best man-made mechanisms out there for getting to the truth.  I’m proud to work at the courthouse.  I’m proud to play a role in the system.

That system can be a messy one, for sure.  It’s nothing less than controlled combat fought within bounds set by established law and rules of evidence.  I’m not a person who relishes conflict.  In most settings, I’d much rather seek consensus, but I’m also attracted to the beauty of an adversarial system that hammers away at the rough edges in two disparate narratives and far more often than not leads us to the truth.

For me, the combat is rarely personal, and maybe that’s how I survive it.  I have a job to do, a role to play, in order for the system to work the way it’s supposed to work.  The same can be said of opposing counsel, law enforcement officers, witnesses, judges, juries, and on down the line.  When everyone performs his or her role to the best of their ability, that’s when we can feel most confident about the outcome.

I never come away from a big win at trial feeling exultant.  How could I?  No matter what happens at trial, lives have been damaged.  That’s why we were there in the first place.  Humpty Dumpty can never be put back together again.  Not completely.  No, I would describe the aftermath of victory as satisfaction for a job well done.  There’s no joy in seeing someone punished, but there is congruence.

And when I lose?  I may not agree with it, but I try to roll with it.  I did the best I could, and justice took its course.  Guilt or innocence?  Beyond a reasonable doubt or no?  I have my opinions.  You know I do.  I presented my evidence.  I argued my case.  But in the end, that wasn’t my role.  It wasn’t my decision to make.


Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and their six children.  He has a B.A. in communications (print journalism) from Brigham Young University and a J.D. from the University of Nebraska College of Law.  Chris enjoys music by The Piano Guys, flying kites, and pumpkin pie.  Chris is the author of Red: A Football Novel.

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The Accidental Ball Coach

In a weird sort of way, I should probably thank the friend who left me standing there with the proverbial whistle.

The past few years, I’ve assisted that friend in coaching our respective daughters’ YMCA basketball team.  My friend knows his stuff.  He was a high-level athlete in his day.  He’s also a gentle giant, and the girls love him.  Meanwhile, I’ve dutifully sat on the bench and helped with the rotation.

I was looking forward to another year of my Robin to his Batman when life happened.  I can’t do it, he said.  Not this yearYou’re in … Coach.

And just like that I’ve got a clipboard in hand, and I’m walking around the court like I’m supposed to know what I’m doing.

From the very first practice, I notice one of the girls has the look.  She’s tall.  A baller, no doubt.  She’s never played organized basketball before, she says, but she’s been in the driveway with her big brothers plenty, and it shows.  She has a pure-looking shot, and I see potential all over the place.  Keep shooting, I say.

She does.  The Baller has a solid season.  She gets rebounds.  Plays defense.  Hustles like crazy. Her shot always looks good as it goes up, but more often than not, it doesn’t actually go in.  It’s only a matter of time, I say.  Keep shooting.

In the blink of an eye there’s one practice left, one game, and we’re staring attrition in the face.  One of our best ball handlers won’t make it to the final game.  OK, girls, I say, I need a backup point guard on SaturdayEverybody gets a chance to play the one tonight, and at the end of practice, I’ll tell you who it is.

We have the best practice of the season, and when it ends, I say:  Backup point guard duties go to The Baller.

Be ready, I tell her.

Oh, wow, she says.

On gameday, I put the girls through warmups.  I’m watching them shoot layups and jump shots, and I see something.  The Baller isn’t missing.  The ball goes in.  Every.  Single.  Time.

Did you practice this week? I ask.

The Baller nods, and the game starts.  The Baller scores the first six points.  Six to nothing, just like that.  The other team calls timeout, and I’m standing there sort of in disbelief, but not really.

Turns out, The Baller isn’t finished scoring.  Call it a scoring explosion.  We win the game.  The season’s over.  The girls are happy, and I shake my head.

My daughter and I enjoy a pleasant car ride home.  Then I go for a run, and somewhere between mile two and three it hits me – what it was that just happened back there.  It wasn’t an accident The Baller practiced all week and came out with her hair on fire.

She did it because I told her to be ready.  She took the challenge to heart, and she reached for it.

And I think to myself isn’t that what a coach does?  A coach sees the potential.  A coach challenges us to extend our reach.  That’s precisely what so many teachers, ecclesiastical leaders, mentors, coaches, bosses, colleagues, friends, family members, and heroes have given me over the years.

The difference is they knew what they were doing.


Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and their six children.  He has a B.A. in communications (print journalism) from Brigham Young University and a J.D. from the University of Nebraska College of Law.  Chris enjoys music by The Piano Guys, flying kites, and pumpkin pie.  Chris is the author of Red: A Football Novel.

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All the News …

Call me a true believer.

It all started, I suppose, when I stepped off a bus in Santo Domingo sometime in the spring of 2000.  My two years in the Dominican Republic as a proselyting missionary for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were coming to a close.  I was twenty-one years old with a burning question on my mind:  What to do with the rest of my life?  I stepped down from that bus, and the inspiration struck.  Journalism was the answer.  Just like that.  I knew my calling.

The Dominican Republic, May of 2000

I got home to Nebraska a month or so later.  I worked like a dog that summer – two jobs and sixty hours a week – to save money for college.  That fall, I returned to BYU in Provo, Utah, for my sophomore year of studies, and this time I had a purpose.  I threw myself at a print journalism major.  I loved it.  I lived it.  I wrote on deadline.  I read The New York Times.  I thrived on the electricity of the newsroom.  I relished seeing my name in print.

And I drank the Kool-Aid.  Journalists, I came to realize, play a vital role in our society.  They seek the truth.  They hold the powerful to account and shine a light on injustice.  Without the Fourth Estate – a free and robust press – this whole American experiment crumbles.  I believed that then.  I still do.

But I admit I flinched.  During my senior year at BYU, I told one of my journalism professors I needed a favor.  He said, “Anything – as long as it isn’t a recommendation letter for law school.”  I must not have been the first.  The J.D. was the right thing to do, even if a part of me will always feel like a traitor for it.

My journalism degree is still one of my prized possessions.  The diploma hangs on the wall in my office.  Right next to my law degree.  I’m proud of both.  If I have a favorite, I won’t admit it any more than I would admit to having a favorite child, but deep, deep down, I’ll always be a newspaper man.  My time in the journalism trenches changed me.  It changed the entire trajectory of my life.  I learned a skill, developed some much-needed confidence, and came to admire a profession that is too often misjudged.

B.A. in communications (print journalism) 2003

Frankly, I’ll never understand the paranoia.  Journalists aren’t perfect.  Mistakes happen, but let me assure you the profession as a whole isn’t out to get us.  Journalists are mostly honorable people out to get it right. So, perhaps if one day you’re reading something you don’t particularly like, something that makes you feel a wee bit uncomfortable, maybe just maybe that means there’s a journalist out there doing his or her job.  Yes, the truth can be messy and challenging and disquieting, but it can also set you free.


Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and their six children.  He has a B.A. in communications (print journalism) from Brigham Young University and a J.D. from the University of Nebraska College of Law.  Chris enjoys music by The Piano Guys, flying kites, and pumpkin pie.  Chris is the author of Red: A Football Novel.