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Eulogy

“Dad,” my eleven-year-old daughter called into the darkness early last Wednesday.  “Dad, the bunnies are dead.”

I bolted upright in bed, suddenly wide awake.  “What?”

I suppose I’ve always known, ever since we first brought the bunnies home a year and a half ago, that it would end like this – in tragedy.  A wild animal got them sometime during the night.

I took a deep breath.  I tried to comfort my daughter.  I did my fatherly duty by going out back and cleaning up the aftermath before the other children woke.  Then I broke the awful news to each of them as they emerged.

They were sad.  So was I.  The whole ordeal bothered me.  It still bothers me more than it rightfully should.

We named the bunnies Scratch and Sniff.  As best I can recall, that was my idea.  The kids weren’t so sure about those names at first, but they stuck.

From the start, the rabbits complicated our lives.  They were messy.  Frankly, they weren’t that smart.  We couldn’t go anywhere without figuring out what to do with them while we were away.  We worried about keeping them warm enough in the winter and dry enough in the rain.  A few times, we thought we had lost one or the other of them.

On the other hand, Scratch and Sniff were cute and inquisitive.  They were mostly gentle souls.  (Although sometimes they did get into bunny spats.)  They were long-suffering.  The kids toted them around like stuffed animals.  They brought them inside, dressed them up, cuddled them.

Outside, Scratch and Sniff were happy and free.  They bounded around our backyard like dogs.

Not anymore.  We’ll chalk this one up to important life lessons about love and loss.  Over the course of the last week, I’ve heard the kids make jokes about what happened.  They’re laughing to keep from crying, I guess.

Yes, Scratch and Sniff were just a couple of dumb bunnies, but I can’t help thinking that a sparrow or even a bunny shall not fall on the ground without our Father.

Someday soon I’m sure we’ll get new bunnies.  Our two year old has been petitioning for that very thing during her long and rambling stream of consciousness prayers.  Yes, new bunnies.  We’re already planning how to do a better job of keeping the new ones safe, but they won’t be Scratch and Sniff.

Last Wednesday night, after most everyone had gone to bed, I caught my fourteen-year-old son drift toward the back of the house, pull back the curtain, and gaze into the blackness of our backyard.  He might have been the only one who hadn’t shed a tear for the bunnies that day.

I looked up from the kitchen table.  “You sad about the bunnies?” I asked.

My son shrugged.  “I don’t know,” he said, still staring into the night.  “It’s just kind of strange that they’re gone.”


Chris lives in Lincoln, Nebraska, with his wife, Sara, and their six children.  He is the author of Red: A Football Novel as well as other books and poetry. He has loved several pets over the years. Most of them met tragic ends.

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Legado

Maybe youth is wasted on the young, but that’s OK by me.  I’m not sure the middle aged would be crazy enough to embrace it anyway.

I’ve been thinking lately a fair bit about my nineteen-year-old self.  You know, the guy who traveled to the Dominican Republic, sight unseen, armed only with a fledgling faith in Jesus Christ and a stronger sense of duty, to serve a two-year proselyting mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The entire proposition was terrifying then.  I’ll never forget that sickening feeling as the plane lurched off the runway in Miami en route to Santo Domingo.  (“There’s no turning back now!” I thought to myself.)  Or what about that first day spent wandering the dusty streets, drowning in the humidity and completely unable to understand a single word anybody said?  (The native children eventually resorted to unloading their entire English vocabularies in a desperate effort to communicate with me.  “Wuht tyme ees eet?  Howw ahr yoo, miy freynd?”)

From where I stand today, it’s hard to believe I ever had the guts to go through with it all.  Somehow, I did.  What an adventure.  I survived flying cockroaches, sweltering heat, a hurricane, spotty electricity, unfamiliar food, cold bucket showers, and the list goes on.  I saw staggering poverty.  I was also on the receiving end of unmatched kindness and mind-boggling generosity.

I sometimes think about those people I met, the ones I taught a lifetime ago, and I remember a man who once said to me, “The missionaries are all the same.  They finish their time here, they go back home, and we never hear from them again.  But you’re different, Elder See-pare.”  (They never could pronounce my last name right.  It always came out sounding like the Spanish word for zipper.)  “You won’t forget us.”

Well, yes and no.  I haven’t forgotten them.  How could I?  But I’ve also lost contact with almost every last one of them.  I wish I knew where they are, what they’re doing right now.  Mostly, I wish I had been better for them.

Oh, it’s easy to look back and see everything I could’ve done differently.  I’m now over twice as old as I was then.  I have the benefit of experience and perspective.  Back then?  Youthful energy, optimism, and the Holy Spirit were my guides.

In the end, I’m not sure it could’ve been any other way.  I did my best with what I had.  I planted mustard seeds.  Maybe I made a difference in somebody’s life.  They certainly made a difference in mine.

All of which brings me to my young nephew who recently received his own mission call to labor for two years in, of all places, the Dominican Republic.  He’ll be heading there soon, and I’m extraordinarily proud of him.  He’s a young man of faith and intellect and maturity – and so many talents, really.  He’s infinitely better prepared than I was.  Even though I know a thing or two about those steps he’ll be taking into the darkness, I also know this adventure will be uniquely his.

He’s eighteen years old, the world is at his feet, and something tells me he’s not going to waste it.

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.  He also spent two years in the Dominican Republic without a pillow, but that’s a story for a different day.

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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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