May 15, 2016 by Norris Burkes

As a spiritual columnist, I feel especially close to my readers – maybe that’s because my words sit just a few inches away from your face as you read the newspaper. Or maybe it’s because you listen so well to the many personal stories I’ve shared about my family.
Lately, you’ve responded to these stories by asking for updates, so today I’m going to share the latest on three of my family stories.

First, you’ve asked about my brother who suddenly lost his 58-year-old wife on a Good Friday that was anything but good. The sudden death of my sister-in-law left my semi-autistic brother without a wife, a driver, a business partner and an income.

Shortly after her death, I put my brother in the Las Vegas Veteran’s Hospital because his psychiatric condition encouraged non-compliance with his medications for blood pressure and diabetes.

Yet, there was a ray of sunshine when the psychiatrist asked the obligatory question: “Have you thought about hurting yourself or others?”

My brother considered the question for a moment before he slowly turned to say, “No, I never think about hurting people; I just think about helping them.”

After his discharge from the hospital, I considered treating him like an ailing parent and taking him home with me until we could find another place for him.

But we didn’t do that. We respected his wishes by keeping him in his home and working within our financial limitations. Neighbors cleaned his house and are now taking him meals. Like the Good Samaritan, one neighbor paid $300 for my brother’s lost dog to get veterinary care.

I was just amazed how much people can overlook “a little crazy” when they feel the love that comes from my brother.

You’ve also asked about my daughter, Sara, who’s started a nonprofit in Honduras, called the Chispa Project. The project solicits book donations, inspires teacher-development and sponsors international volunteer projects to Honduras. Several of you even sent donations through her website,

However, some thought I should be worried about her. Well, I wasn’t, that is until she moved her headquarters to Tegucigalpa. Known by its nickname, “Tay-Goose,” it’s arguably the most dangerous city on the planet.

Sara and I have had some heartfelt conversations about the unspeakable scenarios. From those conversations I assure you that she’s found a calling worth giving her life to, but hopefully not giving her life for. And that calling makes me as proud as a dad can get.

But then again, I too moved to a dangerous spot.

Last July, you’ll remember that we downsized from our McMansion in the suburbs to rent a 40-year-old double-wide from a friend at a third of our former house payment. However, we didn’t do it to simply save money.

We did it in part because home ownership in the ‘burbs had become more about the obesity and audacity of materialism. We decided to draw a line in the fiscal sand and say goodbye to all the stuff that weighed us down.

Some of you thought we went too far in moving to a section of Sacramento where crime is 167 percent above the national average, allowing for a 1-in-13 chance of becoming a crime victim.

Well, we’re doing just fine in our quiet little mobile home park. Becky retires next year, so we are considering plans for an international move. But in the meantime, there’s one thing I’ve learned in giving up so much stuff: It’s not what’s in my house that matters – it’s what’s in my heart that counts.

– Write Norris at or P.O. Box 247, Elk Grove, CA 95759. Twitter @chaplain, or call 843-608-9715.