Christmas Miracle 1: Work Accident

For the next few weeks on my blog, I’d like to share Christmas miracles that I have seen through the years.


My first miracle story takes place in early December 2007. I was in my senior year of high school and was getting ready to go to my fourth period class when I got a text from my mom. My dad had been in a work accident and was being rushed to the ER. I could not focus in my next class and was anxious.


Later that night, I was home alone with my sister. My dad was being treated at Nellis Air Force Base which had the closest ER to his workplace in Las Vegas. We learned he was in stable condition but still I was worried. My dad had tried to catch an expensive piece of falling equipment at work and in the process had lost part of his middle finger.


My mom was in the ER waiting with him to make sure all was well. He called to check in on my sister and I. At first, my dad didn’t say much. My sister was teasing him about what had happened and I was curious to see how my Dad would respond.


Suddenly, my Dad said, “Sierra, you’d better stop or you’re going to find a little surprise under your pillow tonight!” I remember howling with laughter and couldn’t stop for awhile.


I had trouble sleeping that night. To help soothe my worries, I lit up the Christmas lights all around my room and turned on the radio to listen to Christmas tunes. I clearly remember when the song “Where are you Christmas?” started playing. Before long, I found myself in tears. I knelt on the floor next to my bed and prayed. Immediately a feeling of peace flooded over me that everything would be fine and my dad would return home okay.


I heard the garage door open beneath me and I rushed downstairs. It was around 1:00 in the morning. My dad walked in with his heavily bandaged hand. He stopped and looked at me quietly. He gave me a hug and said, “It’s okay son. I’m okay.”


As the weeks progressed, I was stunned to watch my dad’s optimism. My dad was the bishop of our local congregation. A “Bishop” in LDS terms basically means an unpaid, voluntary leader who looks after a congregation of about 400 people. Being a “Bishop” is not easy, as it requires many meetings, time away from family, and many long chats with members who are struggling. I was walking with my dad in the hallway during a youth activity at the church shortly after the accident and a congregation member made a sarcastic remark to him. My dad joked by acting appalled and pretended to flip that individual off. He then looked at his hand shocked and pretended to be embarrassed. The member and I got a kick out of it.


For awhile, my dad was not able to drive on his own. I saw true love as I watched my mom drive him to his numerous church meetings, appointments, and work. It was true love that made her stay by his bedside shortly after the accident.


This may not seem like much of a miracle to you, but watching this take place taught me two important facts of life:


1.       It’s possible to smile in any hardship.

2.       True love never dies.


That Christmas could’ve been a miserable one, but with the right attitude it turned out to be one I will never forget. This small Christmas miracle helped shape me into the person I am today. Never forget that people are silently watching you and how you react to challenges. I try to remember that on a day to day basis. How do you react to a challenge that shows up during the holiday season?


Thanksgiving Thoughts

Every morning here in Dallas I take a twenty-minute train ride to where I work at Southwest Airlines. I’ve had the opportunity of speaking with many passengers in the early morning hours and in the evening after work. One passenger I’ve chatted with several times is an African American pastor. We’ve gotten in several conversations about religion and recently about gratitude. He gave me a card from his church that asked, “What if you woke up today with only the things you thanked God for yesterday?”
This question made me realize how much I need to work on feeling gratitude for what I have in my life. I’m sure you can relate as well. It’s easy to forget about all the wonderful gifts we have in our life already when one trial seeks to overpower us and make misery the focus of our existence.
On Monday that was me. I was flustered as Thanksgiving plans I had been planning on for over a month were radically changed and I was unsure of where I was going to spend the holiday. I spent many hours contemplating what to do. During this time frame, I decided to participate in a volunteer service activity at Southwest HQ right after work to get my mind off my worries. A Southwest Airlines plane was pulling into a neighboring hangar filled with Kidd’s Kids participants. What Kidd’s Kids seeks to do is provide chronically ill or physically challenged kids with the opportunity to travel to Disneyland. Southwest Airlines helps this Texas based charity organization by providing these kids with free flight privileges to and from Orlando, Florida. Southwest Airlines always seeks to add the right touch at these events. When this plane was returning to Dallas, it was icy cold due to a winter storm in the area. My department decided to lighten up the evening by creating, “Welcome home!” signs and waiting for these participants at the hangar. The plan was to cheer, give high fives, and to help where possible as these passengers stepped off the plane via a staircase. A small metal staircase was pushed to the plane and the doors were flung open. I cheered with my department and other interns as these families stepped off the plane. Most of these kids had to be carried off the plane by their parents as most couldn’t walk without any support. I watched one beautiful Hispanic girl around nine being carried off the plane by her father. As we cheered for her, she gave us all the biggest smile and waved to us. She even gave me a high five as she was carried past me. Before long, I was having trouble cheering. It wasn’t because I didn’t want to participate. It was because I was moved to tears by this optimistic girl. I realized how selfish I had been and how I had let one small trial make me forget all I had to be grateful for.
On Wednesday night, I went to see the new movie, “The Book Thief” with a Czech co-worker of mine. “The Book Thief” centers on an adopted girl named Liesel and her new parents who help hide a Jewish man during the Holocaust. During the movie, I became more grateful for the great life I had as I watched scenes of bombing raids, book burnings, religious persecution, poverty, and loss. My Czech co-worker and I both got in a conversation after the movie just talking about how good we had it compared to those we had just watched in the movie.
This Thanksgiving, I would like to issue you a challenge to take with you after stuffing yourself. Learn to be grateful and see all that you’ve been blessed with especially in dark times. This is a lesson I am still seeking to perfect but I know that as you look at life in this perspective that those dark times will seem less dark and that you will have greater strength to go on through those trials when you realize just how good you have it. If you’re having a really rough day, make a list on paper or in your mind of privileges you have that other may not. Focus on those around you and less on yourself. Although your trial may not get smaller, I can promise you that you will have greater strength to endure by focusing on all that God has blessed you with.

What Is True Love?


In the 1997 Disney cartoon Hercules, the city of Thebes, Greece, is under direct attack by the Titans, a group of monsters that have been released by the God of the Underworld, Hades. Amidst the destruction, a column from a Greek building falls towards the film’s hero, Hercules. Meg, who’s secretly fallen in love with Hercules, pushes him out of the way and is crushed by the column. Running over to Meg, Hercules lifts the column off of her and she is barely alive.


Choking back tears, Hercules asks, “Meg, why did you… You didn’t have to… “


Meg responds, smiling through the pain, “People do crazy things… when they’re in love.”


True love is a term that is hard to define by the world’s standards. It can mean different things to each person.


I personally feel that true love is selflessness. True love is where you are willing to put another’s life above yours, even if it hurts you. True love sees past differences and sees the individual for what they are and what they can become. True love is when that special someone talks with you late into the night when you’re struggling or when one is willing to let you pursue a dream without protest. Most important, true love is the strongest force here on earth.


What is true love to you and what examples of it have you seen in your life?

Choose Your Identity


The movie “Schindler’s List” focuses on a Nazi party member named Oskar Schindler who employs Jews in his metal works factory to help save their lives during the Holocaust. When the war comes to an end, Schindler gathers all of his Jewish employees and their German guards into the main factory.

Calmly, Schindler says facing all of the German guards off to his left, “I know you have received orders from our commandant, which he has received from his superiors, to dispose of the population of this camp. Now would be the time to do it. Here they are; they’re all here. This is your opportunity. Or, you could leave, and return to your families as men instead of murderers.”

His speech moves the German guards including the commandant so much that each one of them quietly leaves the factory. They were able to return home to their loves ones as “men” instead of “murderers.”

I challenge you to re-evaluate the choices you make on a daily basis. Walk away from bad choices like these German guards did in the Czech Republic in 1945. Walk towards good choices that will make you a better person, even if that path is thorny. It is up to you to choose your identity. Who will you choose to become?

Four Teens Change The World

“Justin Bieber Carried up Great Wall of China by Bodyguards!”

“Miley Cyrus on Why She Loves Weed!”

These are two examples of headlines that recently appeared in the news about our current teenage icons. But what about the silent teenage heroes who aren’t in it for themselves?

Here are four teens that you can look up to, regardless of your age, and learn from.

Malala Yousafzai (1997- ). Malala began promoting education for women in her Taliban controlled Pakistani town at the young age of eleven in 2009. She became a threat to the Taliban and was shot in the head by a Taliban gunman on her way home from school on October 9, 2012. Miraculously, she survived and made a full recovery. Since then, Malala has gained international support for her cause, named one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time, nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, became the youngest speaker in the UN, published her own book, and continues to fight for worldwide education.

On The Daily Show:

 Helmuth Hübener (1925-1942). At age sixteen, Helmuth  was one of the youngest victims of the Third Reich sentenced to death for publishing and passing out anti-Nazi leaflets in Hamburg, Germany during World War II. Helmuth recruited three of his friends to help distribute the leaflets. Denounced by a Nazi party member at work, Helmuth was arrested at work by the Gestapo, tried, and eventually beheaded at Plötzensee Prison in Berlin, Germany.

Helmuth’s trial:

Zlata Filipović (1980- ). Known as the “Anne Frank of Sarajevo”, Zlata kept a diary in Sarajevo, Bosnia during the Bosnian War from 1991-1993. It became a national bestseller after she escaped Sarajevo and published it when she was only fifteen. Since the war, Zlata has graduated from the University of Oxford with a Bachelor of Arts in Human Sciences, helped with several books, produced a short film, and helped inspire the famous, “Freedom Writers” in Long Beach, California.

Online Speech:

Barbara Rose Johns (1935-1991). Tired of the deplorable conditions in her all black high school, Barbara of Farmville, Virginia, organized a clever student strike at her school in 1951 starting from the auditorium to the county courthouse. She was only sixteen. She tricked the principal of the high school that there were students causing trouble in downtown. With his absence, she forged a memo from the principal to the teachers asking them to bring their students to a special assembly. When they all arrived all they saw was Barbara standing on the stage. After delivering a powerful speech on the necessity of a student strike protesting the unequal conditions, she got the entire high school to march with her to the county courthouse. This single act is seen as the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement and led to the integration of schools all over the nation.

Who are some extraordinary teens that come to your mind that are changing or have helped changed the world? Please comment!

A Plane Crash To Remember

Last week, I participated in a service project at Maple Lawn Elementary School with various departments of Southwest Airlines. The projects included painting the schoolyard, gardening, and tutoring. One project I participated in was reading to students and helping them find their desired library books. A majority of these students didn’t speak much English. I was walking around the small library when I spotted a Hispanic girl reading an Air Force book. I sat next to her at the reading table and asked what she was reading about. I quickly learned of her love for flying and how she wanted to one day fly a helicopter like her Dad did during the Vietnam War. I was touched by her enthusiasm as she showed me pictures of various military aircraft and explained to me how they worked. Her enthusiasm reminded me of dream jobs I had had at her age and how much I wanted to accomplish them. No dreams seemed impossible as a kid.

At an early age, I hoped to travel all over the world. My parents can tell you of all the books, National Geographic videos, and computer games I had dealing with world geography. On July 17, 1996, I found my Dad sitting in the living room watching the news. I learned that an airplane, TWA Flight 800, had exploded mid-air on its way back to Rome, Italy, killing all 230 people on board. I can vividly remember watching news footage of rescue crews rowing through fiery water looking for survivors in the night. The news broadcast terrified me so much that I was keen on staying home in December of 1997 when a family reunion was planned for Hawaii. I was convinced that if I got on an airplane I wouldn’t come back alive. I rode to the airport with my grandparents and cousins at the crack of dawn and was asked to say the prayer before we left. I can still remember praying, “Please help for our airplane not to crash and that we won’t all die.” When I finished the prayer, the whole car erupted in laughter. My older cousins, who I looked up to, helped soothe my fears and told me I had nothing to worry about. My parents helped calm my fears again when I had trouble stepping onto our Delta Flight. The pilot on board, perhaps noticing my nervousness, decided to show me the cockpit along with several of my cousins. Before long, I came to realize I had nothing to worry about! Thanks to the constant encouragement of my family, flying hardly scares me anymore and that trip to Hawaii was one to remember.

As a six-year old, after TWA Flight 800, I doubt I could imagine that one day I would be interning at an airline company. But because of influential figures in my life I am where I am today. I thoroughly enjoy flying and love traveling the country when possible. Southwest Airlines, like those figures in my life, has encouraged me to keep exploring and to reach for the impossible.

I have been especially impressed with those I work with at Southwest Airlines–especially the interns. They come from all walks of life. Most, like me, have never set foot in Texas. Yet, despite the unfamiliar environment, they are ready to explore. They are incredibly outgoing and fearless. They have inspired me to continue pursuing those dreams I want to achieve and to make the most out of life. I feel that as humans our nature is to be scared of change and to take the easy way through life. Think of all the great opportunities that are placed before you. Are you taking advantage of them or are you letting them pass you by?

That young Hispanic girl at Maple Lawn Elementary School comes from a poor part of Dallas. Yet she has the dream to be a helicopter pilot. Nothing can stop her unless she gives up. If my family had not encouraged me in my dream to travel the world after TWA 800 I would have never set foot on an airplane. I wouldn’t have traveled all over the world like I have today. I just hope that this young Hispanic girl will be encouraged in her dream to be a helicopter pilot like I was at her age to travel the world. Many dreams have been accomplished that society deemed impossible–history is full of such examples. So let’s make history!

In A Bomb’s Shadow

If you would have talked to me last week, I would have had no desire to visit Birmingham, Alabama. Then I came across a weekly report that one of my bosses had prepared at Southwest Airlines. In it, she talked about how Southwest Airlines had helped support the families of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Curious about this, I did research. Impressed with the story behind the 1963 bombing, I booked my free flight to Birmingham from Dallas.


16th Street Baptist Church

Soon enough, I found myself standing across the street from the 16th Street Baptist Church. It was raining in downtown Birmingham that afternoon so I sought shelter in the church. I joined a tour group inside the chapel and watched a video of what had transpired in the church.

On September 15th, 1963, members of the KKK planted a bomb at the 16th Street Baptist Church, which had been a rallying point for the Civil Rights movement. A group of African American kids were heading to the basement of the church to hear the sermon “The Love That Forgives” when the bomb went off. Four teenage African-American girls were killed in the blast and twenty-two more injured. The bombing caught the attention of the entire nation, which, until that point, had paid little heed to the Civil Rights Movement. The bombing helped sway public opinion in favor of the African Americans. A Milwaukee Sentinel editorial said, “For the rest of the nation, the Birmingham church bombing should serve to goad the conscience. The deaths…in a sense are on the hands of each of us.”


I walked to the right side of the 16th Street Baptist Church and found a memorial placed right where the bomb once was fifty years ago. On my visit, I walked back to that spot not just once, but three times pondering on the fact that there are many questions about life that cannot be explained.

One of those questions I’ve had at times is “Why does God let bad things happen to good people?”

I couldn’t help but wonder that as I stood in the rain right where the lives of these four girls ended abruptly. I was standing there thinking when I watched an African American man walk closer to the small stone memorial dedicated to the four girls and looked close at it. He searched the stone looking for something. He then wiped the rain at the bottom of the memorial and read something. He smiled, nodded his head, and proceeded to walk down the street. Curious, I looked at the memorial to see what he had just read.

What I had failed to realize was a scripture on the memorial. It was from Genesis Chapter 50, verse 20 and it read: “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

I will not try to answer such a complex question but offer my opinion of this scripture. I personally feel that everything in life happens for a reason. No righteous individual is taken before their time. We each have gone through trials that we wouldn’t wish on anyone, even our enemies. Reflecting on what I’ve gone through the past year, I’ve been exposed to some of the most difficult trials I have ever faced in my life. But when I look back on those trials I’ve come to realize just how much better my life is and how those times were times that “God meant it unto good.” I cannot relate to what it’s like to lose a daughter in a bomb explosion but I can relate to what it’s like when life takes a different turn than expected.

People have their ability to choose and unfortunately they choose to take the lives of others. But we can choose to realize that such evil times cannot tear us apart and that somehow they fit in God’s picture of life for us.

9/11: A Call To Action

In the summer of 2001, I woke up from a terrifying dream. I was driving with my Dad through a narrow street in a city area. All of a sudden, the street exploded into flames. As we continued driving I listened to the chaos around me. I watched entire homes be consumed in the flames. What horrified me the most in this dream was watching people leap from their homes, screaming, to their deaths. I woke up crying at the horror I saw. Just a month later, I watched such an event happen live on television on a normal September Tuesday morning.
All of us clearly remember where we were when we first heard the news. I was only eleven years old and watched the news all day learning all I could about what was happening on the other side of the country, watching news clips of office workers falling to their deaths from the World Trade Centers. As the day wrapped up, I approached my Dad in his bedroom where he was working. He told me, “Son, this is a day you are going to remember for the rest of your life.”
Since then, I have visited where the World Trade Centers once stood and have driven past the Pentagon on the highway. I have studied much about this horrific day through books and movies and know people who have lost friends, teachers, and even family members in these attacks.
As most of you are aware, I just began an internship with Southwest Airlines in Dallas, Texas. On Monday, we spent a few hours in the lecture hall for orientation. Part of the orientation included a movie about the history of Southwest Airlines and all of the adversity it’s had to go through. One of those obstacles was 9/11 when many of us were scared to fly.
I was touched by the video that was shown of Southwest Airlines employees supporting each other during this uncertain time in the airline industry. Clips were shown of employees waving American flags in their office cubicles and on the tarmac to help calm passengers down. It moved me to tears. I have always been touched watching the country unite together to help communities in need after disgusting atrocities.
9/11 is a day I will not forget for more than one reason. I will never forget the unity I saw in my own community and in the nation. I was part of a children’s choir that was asked to sing “I’m Free” with Rick Springfield at a 9/11 relief concert at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. I didn’t understand much of what was going on as I stood there with my friends in front of thousands of people singing. But when I look back on that uncertain time, I realize just how many of us in the United States wanted to bring hope to a shaken country.
On the one year anniversary of the attacks in 2002, I was watching cartoons on PBS when a touching Verizon commercial honoring those lost in the attacks came on. I had forgotten about it till now and wanted to share it with you:
Last Friday, I visited the location of where JFK was assassinated in Dallas. At the museum inside the book depository where the alleged sniper is believed to have shot the president, a video was shown of President Kennedy giving his inaugural address on January 20, 1961. A clip was shown of President John F. Kennedy saying, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” That phrase left a lasting impact on me.
Think of how you can unite your own country by starting in your community. No country is perfect. Each has its pros and cons. Like John F. Kennedy said, think of ‘what you can do for your country’ that has done so much for you. Many have helped unify their nation by starting with small acts of kindness and service. You can too, today!

The Future Awaits


A few nights ago, my cousin, Autumn, and I, were going on an evening stroll in the small town of Toquerville, Utah during a family reunion. We were walking past a grass field close to my grandparent’s house when we saw a beautiful sunset through some clouds. We both stopped to admire it.

“I really love sunsets,” said Autumn, “I’ve heard people say sunsets bring hope and peace. Why do you think that is Zach?”

I responded, “Well, I’ve heard some people say that it means the end of something great.”

Autumn stood pondering for a moment and said, “That’s interesting. Then a sunrise means a new beginning.” That brief conversation I had with Autumn inspired this post.

I’ve just finished a three-month long internship with Enterprise Rent-A-Car. That chapter, like the sunset, has ended for a time. It was a time where I learned much, made numerous friends, and grew. Now I am in the next chapter in my life. Tomorrow I will be moving to Dallas, Texas, to begin my next internship with Southwest Airlines. A new sunrise in my life is beginning.

During this particular family reunion, I thought a bit about my upcoming internship and the pressing problems our nation has had with Syria recently. I feel that many, myself included, can be at times scared of what awaits us in the future. We don’t know what lies on the horizon or how that chapter in our life will pan out. Many chapters in our life begin with a leap of faith and uncertainty with what will happen. We may feel both excited and terrified to begin a new chapter. A friend of mine, Matthew Wilson, said, “If you aren’t making yourself uncomfortable, you aren’t growing.”

Going to Dallas is both exciting and nerve-racking. I am excited to make many more treasured friends and to learn more about the business world. I am also scared to move to a place I don’t know much about and to be away from home. But I feel that with each step that it helps us become better individuals and opens the door to many more wonderful experiences down our road of life. Life isn’t meant to be a stalemate but one of growth and reaching outside our comfort zone. If we aren’t seeking, we aren’t growing. My Peruvian friend, Pilar Arce, said, “I like when life is always changing and bringing us new adventures.”

President Monson, the current leader of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, said,  “The future is as bright as your faith.”

Make each chapter in your life count and don’t fear the future. Smile as a new sunrise begins and work hard throughout the day so your sunset is even more glorious to watch!

Going The Extra Mile

Charles Adams, an American politician, said, “No one ever attains very eminent success by simply doing what is required of him. It is the amount and excellence of what is over and above the required, that determines the greatness of ultimate distinction.” Recently, a story of a Georgia family that went the extra mile for me in 2010 keeps popping into my mind. It’s a story I haven’t shared much but it’s one I feel that needs to be told.

As a volunteer missionary in Savannah in 2010, I lived with five missionaries at a two-story house that had recently been converted from a garage. We lived in a run-down neighborhood where we got used to hearing gunfights nightly, police sirens, and disputes of all kind. I lived in this neighborhood for six months. It was the summer of 2010 and at the time I was working with two other volunteer missionaries from Utah. We were working with an African American family named the *Overton’s (name has been changed). We had hit it off well since Mrs. Overton was from my hometown of Las Vegas, Nevada. We often came to visit them since their apartment complex was close by. Their particular apartment complex had a reputation for gang violence. Racial tensions are still high in some of these neighborhoods and whites are not the most popular. It was scary to head into this neighborhood, but the three of us felt that we’d be protected since we were on the Lord’s errand.

Most of our conversations with Mrs. Overton took place standing in front of her doorway. Her apartment was on the second story so we had a clear view of all that took place in this complex. On this one particular night, we were again talking with Mrs. Overton before we headed in for the day. The sun had almost sunk below the horizon and the apartments were just beginning to come to life like they always did when night came. We were just finishing chatting with Mrs. Overton when we heard some commotion out in the middle of all the apartments. There was nothing but a dirt road in between the apartment buildings and trees surrounding it. I peered off the balcony close to Mrs. Overton’s door and was alarmed when I watched as dozens of residents running in all directions–most were running into various apartments and slamming their doors.

The tension escalated when a young African American women came bolting up the stairs screaming, “Everybody get inside! They are about to start shooting! Get inside! They are about to shoot!” She quickly ran up the stairs, opened her apartment door, and locked it.

I remember thinking, “I am so glad my Mom isn’t watching this right now.”

The three of us looked at Mrs. Overton and she asked, “Y’all wanna come inside?” We didn’t need to be asked twice.

After locking the door, the three of us sat down on the floor. Mrs. Overton told us, “Y’all can stay in here till the shooting stops. It’s okay.” She then proceeded to work on various errands in the house. I watched as two of her older kids cooked dinner in the kitchen. Two of Mrs. Overton’s younger daughters came to visit with us while we waited to keep us company. After an hour of waiting, the two missionaries and I felt it was safe to check outside. The sun had already set and the sky was a dark blue. We had barricaded ourselves in the Overton’s apartment for an hour, yet no shots were fired. The apartment complex was still abandoned. We thanked Mrs. Overton for allowing us to stay longer and took off for home. We had no intentions of staying any longer outside in that complex at least for that night.

As you all are aware, I currently intern at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. I strive to go the extra mile there with customers and make sure their needs are satisfied. Some customers tell me, “Sorry, I hope I am not annoying you.” I reply to them, “No, don’t be. I live for this and don’t mind one bit.” The reason I am like this today is because of the Overton’s. They could’ve easily joined their neighbors and locked the door telling us to run for our lives. We, being white, were prime targets for violence. She didn’t have to, yet Mrs. Overton allowed us to come into her home and wait it out.

That’s why I strive to go the extra mile. It’s so easy to do the same monotonous tasks in our lives. Yet going the extra mile truly does make a difference. Most people realize when you are going out of their way to make their day better. I don’t know what would have happened if Mrs. Overton hadn’t let us in, but I do know she went the extra mile to protect the three of us. I feel in society we don’t see that much nowadays and that we are all wrapped up in our own lives to not care about helping those around. Going the extra mile only takes minutes–even seconds in some situations. People will not forget those steps you made to make sure their day was even better. I vividly still remember the Overton’s and what they did for me that warm summer night. I will never forget them. I can assure you that those that you go the extra mile for will not forget you either.