The Mirror Image Anniversary

My father died 19 years ago today, on Nov. 23rd, 1996. I try not to take note of the anniversary of his passing every year (don’t know why, really, but I think I’m trying to not be guilty of not moving on). This year, however, is a significant one. As of today, from my perspective, he’s been gone as many years as he was here. That feels like a big deal, though it’s just math.

I was 19-years-old and ten months into my two-year, full time work as a missionary. I hadn’t seen Dad since he dropped me off at the training center in Utah. My last words to him in person were an optimistic “See you later.”

Elder Vaughn​ and I came home early that night. On the answering machine we shared Weldon​ and Suggs was a message from our Mission President to call him immediately. He told Elder Vaughn to be there for me as I was about to receive some pretty terrible news from my grandfather.

Grandpa told me Dad had been shot in a robbery, again (more on that in a bit), but no one knew how bad it was yet. He told me to pray. I knew Dad was dead.

I prayed anyway. I prayed that God would spare my father, that the pain would not be too great and that the feeling in my gut that he was gone was just youthful, useless cynicism. I prayed in vain. I prayed anyway. For the next 45 minutes my knees didn’t leave the carpet.

Mom called to tell me the news. Dad had died almost instantly, moments after a loud BANG cut their telephone conversation short and he ordered her to “Call the cops, Jill​!”

Two shots to the heart. One to the stomach. He went quickly, just like he always wanted.

Dad knew he was going to die relatively young. He talked about it often. In his own, what-seemed-to-us-pessimistic way, he prepared us well for the inevitable. What seemed a cruel and unpleasant joke when he was alive gave comfort once he was gone. There’s an order to things, a structure. Some of us are gifted with peeks at the plans, and always for a reason.

I’ve never thought it unfair that my father died when he did. Maybe because, as the oldest of four brothers, I had the longest time with Dad before he went. Logan​, McKay​, and Tyler​ all experienced this particular, mirror image anniversary a long time ago, and, of the four of us, only I ever knew him as an adult. But I don’t think that’s it. Now matter how much time you get with a parent or a loved one, it’s never enough.

I’ve never thought it unfair and I’ve never asked why my father had to die because Dad taught me better than that. He taught me, more than anyone, about having the proper perspective. This life is but a moment. There’s so much that’s grander just ahead. If the next life is Disneyland, then we’re in the car, maybe in the backseat, on our way right now. Who gripes about the car ride when you know you’re gonna end up in Disneyland?

I never thought it unfair and I never asked why. Maybe that’s why I got an answer anyway.

The next morning, after meeting with my compassionate, supportive Mission President and his wife, I left the mission field to return home for five days to be with my family, help get my dad’s affairs in order, and organize the funeral. I spoke at the funeral, which was one of the hardest–and easiest–things I ever had to do. A wise man, a spiritual leader I respect very much, pulled my family aside shortly afterwards and told us that it was his distinct impression, for whatever it’s worth, that Dad had to move on so my brothers and I could become the men we needed and ought to be.

That’s a bold thing to say. In the wrong context or to the wrong ear, that can be a cruel thing to say, but in that moment I understood perfectly what he meant. My brothers and I had a responsibility to take who our dad was and what he taught us and really add it all up. We had to see in a way we couldn’t see when he was alive just who he was, good and bad, and make some decisions about who we wanted to be. Our identities are wrapped up in who we belong to. We didn’t belong to Dad, the strongest man who ever lived, anymore. Strength now had to come from within. Not our old, weak strength that failed us and made us come running to Dad for help, but a new strength. A suspiciously, gentically familiar strength, but our own strength.

In the past 19 years I’ve done my best to nurture that strength, though I do fail. I fall. Dad failed a lot, too, but he always got back up again. I think, ultimately, that was his biggest strength. He knew how to fall and get back up again and keep going like no one I’ve ever met. Or will likely meet again.

19 years. He hasn’t been there to catch me in a long, long time, but he doesn’t need to now. I figured out how to get back up on my own.

Thanks, Dad.

(This video is part one of Dad’s biggest fall. The circumstances in this first shooting were exactly the same as the ones that killed him. The only differences were: 1) he was shot thirteen times, not three, and 2) He lived. In my house, we call that a miracle.)

Empty Tomb Pendants Reservation Form

On the third day, the stone was rolled away and the tomb was found empty. The elegant design of the Empty Tomb symbol is a subtle, powerful way to express belief in the Living Christ. On the front is the stone and the tomb, on the back the simple, powerful truth at the heart of Christianity: HE LIVES.

  • * * *

It’s finally here! After first designing the Empty Tomb symbol this past Easter and then making it real with the first and second prototypes (follow-up blog coming soon), I’m pleased to announce that Empty Tomb Designs is now taking reservations for the Empty Tomb Pendants in Sterling Silver and Yellow Bronze.

Our second prototype and a great look at both the front and the back.

Our second prototype and a great look at both the front and the back.



Fresh out of the box and ready for chains!

These are hand-crafted, Made-in-the-USA pieces of the highest possible quality in these metals. We worked for months to get just the right design and find just the right manufacturer. No easy task, but it was worth it. Pre-order now and we guarantee you’ll have your pendant(s) in time for Christmas.

Our website is not quite up and running, but this pre-order form guarantees your spot in line. No need to submit payment information at this time. Reserve your pendant(s) today and we’ll contact you with further instructions later. See details in the form below:

UPDATE! The pendants can now be ordered directly at

The Empty Tomb: Bringing the Symbol to Life with the First Prototype

cropped-logo.jpgPreviously – The Empty Tomb: Putting the Symbol Out Into the World

After proving there was real merit to the Empty Tomb symbol and that people were genuinely interested in seeing it on some type of accessory, my thoughts went immediately to who in the world I could call upon to help me make my germ of an idea into something real.

Thankfully, I’m Mormon. That means I know a guy for just about everything. Need work done on your car? I know a guy. Your house? I know a guy. What about a lawyer or a handyman or a foot doctor? I know a guy. A cop? I know a few. Mormons are everywhere and we’re all connected to each other with not very many steps in between. Basically, every Mormon is Kevin Bacon.

I didn’t even have to go outside of my own circle at to find the perfect partner for the Empty Tomb project. Jeff Kennington at Kennington Jewelers sold my wife and I our wedding rings. My Mother-in-Law is one of his most frequent customers. He’s also my uncle.

Jeff reminds me of my dad probably more than anyone else I know. Hopefully, he takes that as a compliment because my father was not only one of the better people I’ve known, he also had no small part in inspiring the Empty Tomb symbol in the first place.

Dad died as a victim of an armed robbery in 1996 after claiming for years that he would die before seeing his sons grow up. I was 19 at the time, and my youngest of three brothers was 10. Dad was 47. H is final years were full of pain and struggle as he had suffered no small amount of physical complications from another armed robbery eight years prior.

If you watched the above videos you heard my dad say it boldly: “I’m not afraid to die.” He really wasn’t. He talked all the time about what a grand adventure death would be and how much at peace he was with the idea–to him, fact–that he was not long for this world. He was a believer in the resurrection. He looked forward to living again and his body being restored to perfect order. It was his understanding of the gifts Christ had given him that got him through some pretty tough days and gave him a courage I still envy. Dad taught me more about the Living Christ through his powerful, matter-of-fact faith than any other book, teacher, or person I’ve known.

Jeff was a good sport about my email inquiry. He didn’t even tell me straight off like he should have about how he gets a million of these proposals from people who have the “next big idea” in jewelry that will make him millions. Instead, he looked at the design, considered the social media response and read the reactions, and ultimately concluded that I just might have something.

“There are no guarantees,” he said. “But this probably has the best shot of anything I’ve ever seen.”

Jeff and I working on the initial 3D model of the pendant.

Jeff and I working on the initial 3D model of the pendant.

Jeff, who I like to refer to as “Master Craftsman,” is real DIY jeweler.Kennington Jewelers specializes in high end and custom jewelry and Jeff has all the tools and equipment he needs to make just about anything he or anyone else can imagine. Immediately, we both wanted to make the symbol real. We wanted a pendant, in our hands.

Using the computer at the back of his store, Jeff immediately went to work on a 3D model using CAD to bring my flat design out of the 2D realm.

And, specifically, to my wife.

My wife, Erin, the first person to wear the Empty Tomb symbol (and owner of the first prototype!)

My wife, Erin, the first person to wear the Empty Tomb symbol (and owner of the first prototype!)

The road from designing the pendant to reality was a bit longer than I might be making it seem. Once the design was finessed in the computer (Jeff was extremely patient with my requests to take off 1/8 of a millimeter here and add 1/10th of a millimeter there), Jeff made a wax mold, cast it in white gold, polished it, added a chain, and probably did a whole bunch of other stuff I’m forgetting or just plain don’t know about. Because Jeff is the real brains of this operation.

Jeff, working hard on the first prototype.

Jeff, working hard on the first prototype.

Close up of the first pendant prototype.

Close up of the first pendant prototype.

In the end, we ended up with something that very, very closely resembled my initial drawings. We opted for putting two o-rings on either side of the pendant because of concerns over the inherently uneven weight distribution across the symbol. The thinking was that splitting the chain and attaching it at the o-rings would balance it out for the wearer.

But, as it turned out, we didn’t need to be all that worried about imbalance. There was a much, much simpler solution…

Next: The Second Prototype.

What Violet, my youngest daughter, does while waiting for Mommy and Daddy to finish working with Uncle Jeff.

What Violet, my youngest daughter, does while waiting for Mommy and Daddy to finish working with Uncle Jeff.

What’s it Like Going to a Hollywood Movie Premiere?

It was probably sometime between noticing Kathie Lee Gifford was sitting right behind me and the woman in front of me with a tray of chicken and waffles was offering to get me anything I wanted that my wife, Erin, turned to me and said:

“Whose life is this?”

I looked around the room at the afterparty–at the DJ rocking it way too loud, at the black ties and the short skirts dotting the reserved table areas and the free bar, at the pretentious Evian water in front of me (I’m not clear on how or why a bottle of water could earn the label “pretentious,” but I do know it fits). I looked at all of us–at me and Erin and Travis and Amber and Chris and Rich and Steve and Tyler and all of us from, of all the dusty places on the Earth, Fresno–who came down to LA to celebrate a movie we made. There was just one answer to the question.

Whose life is this? This is our life now.


* * *

The fanciest of evenings started out, as it so often does not, in a McDonald’s parking lot… Click here to read the rest on!

The Gallows Black Carpet Event

Here’s one indicator you’ve done something right in life: you attend a Red (in this case, Black) Carpet Event with celebrities and actors and actresses all over the place and the prettiest woman in the room is your wife.

Erin, in her dress and shoes.

Erin, in her dress and shoes.

Weirdly, we were nervous going into the event. I joined up with Tremendum Pictures earlier this year and although I’ve since met all sorts of people from all the highest walks of life, there was something intimidating about going into this thing–what with its jeweled purses, camera flashes, and fanfare and so forth. So much fanfare. Every news crew in town was there.

What to wear was a huge concern. It really shouldn’t have been. We saw people in everything from baseball caps to full-blown suits to pantsuits to floor-length gowns. But, as I said, Erin was the prettiest. She walked past the assembled crowd of fans waiting in line to see the movie with a full-on strut.

This being Fresno, it was 107 degrees out. This being a weird time in weather history, it was incredibly humid. Pretty sure I both ate too much popcorn and lost 3 pounds in sweat.

The Gallows is a movie I joined at the end of its four year creation process. My official credit on the film is “Assistant Set Decorator.” If you see the movie when it comes out on July 10th (and you should if you like awesome and fun in combination), pay special attention to the very last scene. You’ll see some of my handiwork and furniture.

This is an indie movie. We all pitched in whatever way we could, doing all sorts of things and contributing our time, talents, and vanity mirrors. The past few weeks we’ve all been going to local theaters to spread the word and sign posters. (Well, Writer-Directors Chris Lofing and Travis Cluff have been signing posters. Tell someone they could get their poster signed by the Assistant Set Decorator and watch them run.)

In one particularly hilarious, spontaneous moment, as we were exiting the theater a week or so ago after a 2 hour signing, Travis yelled out to me, “HEY, HAVE YOU HEARD ABOUT THIS MOVIE, THE GALLOWS?”

I was halfway across the parking lot. Travis was passing the line of people waiting to get in. They just stared with equal parts curiosity and confusion. I yelled back, “NO! WHAT’S THAT?”






“NO SH#*!”

Only, I didn’t say “NO SH#*!” That’s what Chris, who was standing next to Travis, heard me say. For some reason. What I really said was “NO WAY!” I’ve never said “NO SH#*!” in my life. But Chris’s version is funnier.

Despite this guerrilla approach to getting the word out, The Gallows is certainly not being distributed like an indie movie. It’s coming out with the full support of Warner Bros. Marketing and it shows.

It feels like the buzz is hitting the right pitch and certainly the people who have now seen it have been blown away by it. If you like scary movies, you can’t miss this one. It delivers the goods in a big, big way.

Chris Lofing, Erin, Me, Travis Cluff

Chris Lofing, Erin, Me, Travis Cluff

My second favorite thing about the Black Carpet Event (Erin’s outfit was clearly the first) was seeing my friends Chris  and Travis take a victory lap. They have sacrificed everything they have and more to make this movie. The success they’re about to have is well-deserved. They’re good, gracious guys who are always, always quick to recognize the contributions of others and how blessed they are.

The pre-screening mingling was a contest of foot space. I can’t even imagine what all the regular patrons of Maya Cinemas were thinking as they dodged fancy shoes and shuffled through to Inside Out and Ted 2. Local Morning Show hosts were there, the Mayor of Fresno was there, all the press, all the investors in the film, the producers out of Hollywood, everyone was there.

What’s funny is how lost everyone can look at an event like this. Besides the actors and Chris and Travis, no one really has a purpose besides watching the movie.* So, you stand and you talk and try to look like you belong. You do belong, of course–you’re on the list–but to be approved for admittance without purpose is an uneasy kind of belonging. At least for me. I like to have things to do.

*Or taking pictures. No one asks you to take pictures at an event like this–there were plenty of people around who were being paid to do it–but you do it anyway both because you want the memento and because it’s something to do.  

Erin and Megan, just before the show started.

Erin and Megan, just before the show started.

Erin and I settled into our seats alongside our friends Nate (who also works with Tremendum) and Megan, and our new friend, Brandon Jones, the film’s sound designer. Brandon’s a great guy and a great talent who, as you’ll discover once you see the movie, was absolutely integral to the movie’s success. The only music in the entire film plays over the end credits, so it was really up to Brandon to design a soundscape that would carry you all the way through the thing without making you once question why there aren’t any strings or guitars telling you how to feel. This is absolutely, perfectly what happens. Nice work, Brandon.

Quick story about Brandon: he just so happens to be tall and good-looking. After the film, he was mobbed by a large group of screaming women who demanded he take a picture with them. The funniest thing about this was that Ryan Shoos, one of the leads of the film, was standing nearby. Completely ignored. Ryan was a good sport about it and even went up to Erin and told her, excitedly, “that’s Brandon Jones over there!”

The movie went over like gangbusters with the audience. Lots of hiding faces behind hands and gripping the seats. Erin, surprisingly, did great with it. She watched it all with eyes open and managed to have a great time despite the film not being her usual bag. I was worried she’d be more like Megan and want to throw up. Seriously, Megan was so out-of-her-mind scared I’m pretty sure she thinks we made a radio show.

The credits were everyone’s favorite part. The movie was made entirely in Fresno by Fresnans and it was just so, so satisfying to clap and applaud for the people who were right there in the room with you. I’ve applauded after a film before, but it’s never been for the benefit of the people who made it. They’re never there. I just enjoy the explosion of joy that can follow a good movie and I like joining celebrations. This was different. This was more like a play. When we applauded, the actors and producers and casting person and, yes, the Assistant Set Decorators got to actually feel the love. Erin and Megan and Nate and I reserved our biggest cheers for Travis’s wife, Amber. Outside of Chris and Travis, I can’t think of anyone else more directly responsible for making The Gallows possible.

The stars of The Gallows with Erin and Megan. From L-R. Reese Mishler, Cassidy Gifford, Megan, Erin, Pfeifer Brown

The stars of The Gallows with Erin and Megan. From L-R. Reese Mishler, Cassidy Gifford, Megan, Erin, Pfeifer Brown

The actors were mobbed afterwards. With the exception of Cassidy Gifford, daughter of Kathie Lee and Frank, the spotlight is not something they’ve really had before. Not on this level, certainly. You can already tell they’re pros, but also gracious and sincere in their acceptance of praise. I had a particularly good time catching up with Reese, who is the audience surrogate in the movie and gets his lines cut off hilariously in the editing over and over again. Not that my opinion is anything he should care about, but I assured him it worked for the movie and the character.

Back Row L-R: Tyler Smith, Megan Healy, Erin, Me, Nate Healy. Front Row L-R: Richie Mirelez, Ryan Shoos, Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff

Back Row L-R: Tyler Smith, Megan Healy, Erin, Me, Nate Healy. Front Row L-R: Richie Mirelez, Ryan Shoos, Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff

The cameras came back out as everyone made the rounds once again for photos. As a special treat, the actual gallows made for the film was reconstructed in the theater lobby. Surrounded by barriers, no one had dared approach it all night. Sensing a great photo op, Chris and Travis just busted down the barriers and started calling people up in all sorts of combinations for pictures with them and the cast and the producers. Like I said, gracious.

By the time the afterparty hit, we were ready to eat. The food was good, but the real treat was the venue. Erin and I are both graduates of Fresno State and one of the more irksome things about our time there was the construction and establishment of the Smittcamp Alumni House, a beautiful, mansion-like building made exclusively for elite scholars, rich university donors, and visiting dignitaries. Or whatever. I never really knew what the Smittcamp Alumni House was for, but I did know that it robbed us students of a whole bunch of parking spaces. Because space. I was never allowed into the building until this very, quite spectacular night.

So, Smittcamp Alumni House, you had my ire. But guess WHAT? You… you’re a pretty nice building. Thanks for hosting us.

Erin and I left the party a little early, at 10:45pm. She had been complimented by Cassidy and several other people on her shoes throughout the night, but beauty comes at a price and I like a wife with feet. Once we’d cleared the threshold of the Smittcamp House, the shoes were off and Erin lost about a foot of height.

Erin was truly in her element the entire night. Not only was it the prettiest she’d felt in a very long time, but it was the first time since losing our jobs last year that she felt like we were part of something professional. You don’t know how much you need to feel part of the world until they kick you out of it.

This movie is a big deal, but more importantly Tremendum is a big deal. Even though we’re only a few hours away from Los Angeles, Fresno is very much its own thing. Hollywood does come here on occasion, but it’s usually to make fun of us. (I’m looking at you, makers of the indie film “Fresno.”) The support we’ve gotten from the community on this is incredible and will allow us to both stick around and do so much more in the future. I’m grateful to be in the middle of all of it. I predict big things.

The Empty Tomb: Putting the Symbol Out Into the World

Previously – The Empty Tomb: “Why Can’t There Be a Symbol of the Living Christ?”

I had created what I thought was a simple, elegant symbol to represent the Empty Tomb of the living and resurrected Christ. Two circles, side-by-side, one of them open and one closed. The closed circle is the stone that was rolled away on the third day after Christ’s crucifixion. The open circle is the empty tomb where His body could not be found because He lived again.

FirstEmptyTombSketchPretty straightforward symbol. Pretty simple.

But maybe it was too simple.

I showed the symbol to my wife, Erin. I told her what it meant. She looked at it, considered it, and said “Huh.”

She didn’t know what to make of it. It seemed unique, but also familiar. I’m certainly not the first person to put two circles together. But, in my gut, I kind of felt like I onto something.

And then I sat on the design for three years.

* * *

In late August of last year I lost the job I’d held for 12 years. 24 hours earlier, Erin had lost hers. It was a devastating blow not only to our personal sense of identity (we’re productive members of society, dang it), but also to our financial, emotional, and spiritual stability. We got low. And then we tried to pick ourselves back up again. That set us on a long, unexpected road.

In April of this year Erin and I went to Italy. We’d purchased the tickets a couple of weeks before we lost our jobs and decided to go mostly because it was already paid for, but also because a trip to Italy would never again be so cheap as we’d be staying with friends the entire time.

On Easter Sunday, April 5th, 2015, I was in the Italian apartment of our friends Pete and Lisa, sitting and listening to lessons on Christ and his sacrifice, when the symbol of the Empty Tomb popped into my head once again. This time, I couldn’t shake it. I felt inspired to get it down on paper and just put it out there and see if anybody else thought there was something special about it.

Having no paper, I used my iPad instead:

April 5th Empty Tomb Drawing

I posted the drawing on Facebook and Instagram for everyone to see and judge. The response was immediate and overwhelming. There was something about the symbol that spoke to people on a deeper level than I even anticipated. They got the depth of what the symbol says immediately, almost without explanation. It seemed to do for them what it did for me: express an aspect of their faith in Christ and that no other symbol quite could.

People even started seeing meanings in the symbol I didn’t even realize were there.

They saw the tomb and were pleased by the design, but those who looked closer saw an implied infinity symbol. Several people even assumed it was an intentional part of the design. “Infinity” is a wholly appropriate idea to get from the Empty Tomb symbol. The tomb was empty because Christ became the “firstfruits of them that slept.” (1 Corinthians 15:20) He became a resurrected being. Resurrection is everlasting. Eternal.

I think all truly great art tends to do this. Great art gathers meaning unto itself the author or artist may not have been aware of nor intended. That “gathering of meaning” serves as, if nothing else, an affirmation of the original inspiration behind the creation of the art.

I didn’t even have to say it. Within just a few short minutes someone popped up and said they’d like to see the symbol on a pendant or a ring. They could see it on jewelry. Thankfully, I’d brought my laptop with me to Italy. Inspired, I opened Adobe Illustrator and made this that same afternoon:


While the eventual first pendant we’d create with the design would look a bit different from this, the idea of what this symbol could be–and even its logo–was born.

Once again, Facebook and Instagram went nuts. Several people wanted to place their orders right away. Some of my Protestant and Catholic friends messaged me privately to ask if the symbol could only be worn by Mormons. A Buddhist friend of my Mother-in-Law even inquired if she could get one. She just liked the look of it. Even my atheist and agnostic friends complimented the design.

It honestly hadn’t even occurred to me until that very moment that anyone outside of my faith would be remotely interested in the symbol as a meaningful thing or as a piece of jewelry at all. I gladly responded in the affirmative. It’s not a Mormon symbol. It’s a symbol for all Christians. It’s a symbol for Christ.

The symbol of the Empty Tomb seems to strike just the right balance between clarity of meaning and subtlety. It’s that balance–that sweet spot–that makes the symbol effective and attractive. People want to express their faith, but most people don’t want to hit anyone over the head with it.

I hope it’s not crass to say this, but it’s nevertheless true: based on the responses I got through social media that day, the thought occurred to me that there might actually be a way to make money again. I don’t need to be a rich man (we all know what Christ had to say about the difficulties that attend that lifestyle), but I do need to make some money to feed and clothe my family. I couldn’t help but be preemptively grateful for the gift of the symbol and the enthusiasm of so many.

Of course, I had no idea how to make jewelry out of this thing, nor distribute it. I needed a partner.

Next: Partnering with Kennington Jewelers and making the first pendant.