Saturday, December 7, 2013

Wife Rule #166: Things Change


2013 has been a year of many changes for our family.  Most of them were good.  For example, Rachel began middle school, and Charity began Kindergarten.  Andrew was baptized, and Dawn and Rachel got their first church callings, Dawn as president of the Beehive class (about 20 of them!), and Rachel as first counselor to Dawn's replacement.  Summer found her courage to talk to grownups in our neighborhood, and Scott began enjoying piano lessons.  I was released after seven years of service in the elders quorum presidency, and my wife taught herself to play the accordion (a little).  Perhaps happiest of all, our little Lily was born and delights us all with a constant barrage of smiles and coos and her intense gaze with those bright, wide-open eyes.  Our home has never felt fuller and our lives have never felt busier.

Some changes are not so good.  For example, we no longer fit into our minivan; we've been shopping for larger vehicles and so far have found nothing that we like, so we've been driving two cars a lot.  Certain things are starting, of necessity, to drop out of our lives; we all find ourselves having to choose which of our many interests are most important to pursue, for lack of time to do everything.  Scott broke his arm for the first time.  And far more significantly than these other things, my father passed away early this year.  My wife and I have lost all of our grandparents, and my kids have now lost their grandpas on both sides.  I'm the living patriarch of my little family, as are my brothers in their respective families.  It's all too much, much too soon.

Then there are those things, some good and some not so good, that remain constant: the laundry, for one.  Dishes to be washed.  Gas tanks to be filled.  The bustling from place to place.  My job (thankfully) at a great company, working with great people.  The struggle to balance ever-present priorities, perpetually pulling us all in too many different directions.  Faithful friends.  Weekly date nights (gotta have 'em).  Our wonderful mothers.  The way our kids surprise us with what they learn and the talents they develop.  Many holiday traditions.  The comfort we receive from the scriptures.  The power of prayer.  The increasingly vital roles that family dinners, family scripture reading, family prayer, weekly family home evenings, and family church attendance play in keeping balance in our lives.  Most of all--definitely most of all--the staying power of the Savior in our lives.

He lives. His atonement is real.  The constancy of His love is vital to survive the ever changing world around us.  The principles of His gospel do not change.  His commandments are as true today as they were two thousand years ago, when he said "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, love one another" (John 13:34).  He is still "the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death" (Mosiah 16:9).

At Christmastime, we celebrate the birth of a baby boy.  He arrived pure and innocent, as all babies do.  But in stark contrast to the rest of us, He remained pure and innocent until His last breath, when He gave his life as a ransom for us all.  He truly carried the weight of the world on His able shoulders.  He gave all and conquered all.  He did it for us, to provide a means for us to escape the consequences of both our own sins, and the effects of the fallen world around us.  His grace is sufficient for us--for all of us.

It is because He is the Savior that we celebrate His birth.  As the prophet Gordon B. Hinckley so beautifully stated, "There would be no Christmas if there had not been Easter. The babe Jesus of Bethlehem would be but another baby without the redeeming Christ of Gethsemane and Calvary, and the triumphant fact of the Resurrection." (see http://www.lds.org/ensign/2000/12/the-wondrous-and-true-story-of-christmas)

My wife and I testify of His reality, and the power of His atonement.  Without Him there would be no light, no hope, no life in this world.  Because of Him, we'll see our dads again, in the flesh, and embrace them warmly.  Because of Him, our precious little ones will always be ours.  Because of Him, we are a forever family.  Because of Him, we'll rejoice in those good things that never change; and we'll survive the many changes that come, both good and bad. Because of Him, we have a vibrant hope for that greatest of all changes: to be lifted from our fallen, mortal states into perfected, immortal glory.

And that's the kind of change we can live for.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Short Story


Okay, so I sort of became obsessed with the idea of writing my own spooky short story at Halloween time, and I've had an idea rattling around in my skull for a couple of years now.  As a kid I loved reading Edgar Allen Poe's stories, and have more recently discovered the works of Algernon Blackwood and H.P. Lovecraft.  There is something really fun about the elegant way these old writers weave a spooky tale together.

So, foolishly, I attempted to do the same thing myself.  Though it's certainly not a masterpiece, I am pleased with the way it turned out.  I would love for you to read it and give me feedback.

Keep in mind (this is for you Mom), this is not my normal style of writing.  This is not a feel-good, funny, or spiritual story in any way.  It's a horror story--or at least my attempt at a horror story.  Read it being forewarned.  It's also rather long for a short story--think of Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher," or Blackwood's "The Wendigo."  You will need some time and the proper setting to get into it.

You can find my story, The Maze, on my other blog, Matt's Scratch Pad. I'd love to know if you like it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Favorite Photos Exhibit

I've had my nature photography blog, ColorfulUtah.blogspot.com, for a while now.  Recently I began the process of collecting my personal favorites from the hundreds I have posted there.  I picked out about 50 of my favorite pictures on my photo blog and added them to the following post:

Matt's Favorites

I've posted these in significantly higher resolution than normal--especially if you click on the pictures.  I've also included a paragraph explaining what I love about each picture, which could make the exhibit more engaging to the interested reader.

Let me know what you think!




Sunday, September 8, 2013

Wife Rule #165: Cuteness Prevails

My wife and I have minions.

You've seen minions if you've ever watched one of the Despicable Me movies.  Our minions aren't amorphous yellow blobs wearing blue overalls and glasses, but they are cute, wonderful little people who often speak in incomprehensible babbles, provide a steady stream of slapstick comedy, brighten our days, put smiles on our faces, and ultimately enrich our lives.

At some point the older kids seem to graduate from being minions to being apprentices, or something like that.  We have three who seem to fit this description.  But with the arrival of our newest addition, our minion count is still at four.  Here is a sample of some of the smiles they have recently provided:

Example 1: Seven-year-old Andrew recently came home from school, and was shocked and appalled to find out that his younger sisters had finished the leftover bag of Cheetos while he was away at school all day long.  His righteous indignation flared as he petitioned my good wife: "This is why I want to be home schooled!"  Point taken. 

Example 2: We wanted to make five-year-old Charity's first day of kindergarten extra special so that she would head out the door with a smile on her face.  We let her sleep in longer than normal, then my wife asked her what she would like for a special breakfast, suggesting waffles, pancakes, or cheesy eggs.  Charity's response?  "I would like a piece of bread with butter and a glass of water.  With a pink flower in a vase.  On a silver platter."  Request granted. 

Example 3: We spent much of our ten-day vacation at the beach trying to convince three-year-old Summer to "go potty in the water."  This is because walking back to the beach house across the hot sand is not only a big bother, but once at the house, she must be stripped down and hosed off before entering to avoid making a grand mess with all the sand that accumulates in her swimsuit.  So we put a lot of effort and emphasis on wading into the big, scary ocean far enough to cover her legs and letting go in the cold water.  She put in a valiant effort, but as far as we know, never succeeded the whole time we were there.

Well, on the way back we stayed overnight at a hotel, and took a swim in the pool.  As I was shepherding the kids out of the water to return to our room, I heard Summer saying over and over again "It was amazing!  It was amazing!"  I asked her what was amazing, and she said, "Daddy, I went potty in the water!  It was amazing!"  Yup.  Amazing.

Example 4: In our church, most fathers of families hold the priesthood, so we can administer blessings and other sacraments and ordinances to our family members.  It's really a wonderful part of the gospel--the privilege of using God's authority to bless those we love the most is distributed far and wide among church members.

Today in church I had the privilege of giving a name and a blessing to our newest daughter Lily.  I tried to prepare for the experience, and petitioned the Lord that Lily, despite being a mere infant, would sense something special about the day.  Well, when the time came, all went well, and Lily seemed very happy.  As I held her in my lap after the blessing, cushioning her head so that we were looking directly at each other, she stared with bright eyes and a smile up into my face.  A congregational hymn began, and as I sang, I continued looking at her.  She maintained eye contact, and with a joyful, but earnest look on her face, joined in the song with a steady stream of loud cooing for as long as the hymn lasted.

Together Lily and I sang: "For Jesus died on Calvary that all through Him might ransomed be.  Then sing Hosanna's to his name; let heaven and earth his love proclaim."  In some ways, interacting with her in such a personal way, in such a special setting, felt just as sacred as the blessing ordinance we had shared prior to the hymn.  Once again, Lily utterly, completely melted my heart.

So you see, just like the minions in Despicable Me, what started out in our family as a kind of cute sideshow to the plot ends up stealing all the attention and becoming the main attraction.  And like the script writers, who gave the minions an even more prominent role in the second movie, I now realize that's just how it should be.

Cuteness prevails.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wife Rule #164: Appreciate Leftovers



Leftovers

Looks like leftovers are the menu again
Even though I vowed it would never so be.
When we were first married, when we first began
I hoped only to serve you the best of me.

But years have passed, and things have come
That complicate what once was simple bliss.
Pining for more, we added first one,
Then two, three, and four, then five, then six.

Now we live among whirlwinds that give us a mess;
Stuff clutters our floors, our rooms, and our days.
It’s mostly good stuff: but like all excess
Even good things sometimes can quench the sun’s rays.

Is the simple life found in lessons, in teams?
In recitals and concerts, in seeing them grow?
In a calendar stuffed full and bursting at seams?
In careers, volunteering, and serving them? No!

Not simple; but life--even if barely so.
To help us keep balance we cherish our dates;
We talk late at night; and we plow and we hoe
Side by side if we can; we’re still perfect mates.

And leftovers seem to be all that is left
So often when darkness has stolen the day
And we find ourselves breathless, collapsed and bereft,
In a heap on the bed, barely able to lay,

And you look at me, tired, but with a soft smile
And you whisper sweet words and a few “I love you’s”
And I reach out for you, while you reach for a pen
To add something to tomorrow’s unending TODO’s.

So we get leftovers: You get leftover me.
I get leftover you. But one thing is still sure.
Amidst all we give, where the well runs most deep,
New water flows in; we give, yet we get more:

For in serving the Master who truly gave all,
He gives us this promise: “Thy gold I’ll refine.
And when all the dirt, and the dross, and the gall
Are burned up and away, the leftovers are mine.”

So we’ll work, and we’ll serve, and we’ll grow closer yet,
Handing Him all we have: run the race, delay rest;
And when wrinkles and wheezing seem all that we get
We'll look forward to leftovers--He'll give back the best!

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

My Witness, at Christmastime


A while ago as I sat in church, I was thinking about the unbelief and misunderstanding of the world regarding Jesus Christ, and it made me sad. Today there are many who admire Him as a great teacher but deny the miracles that He did. There are some who say that He never existed, but was only a personification of God’s love for the people of the world, and that the disciples made up stories of Him as a metaphor of this love. There are an increasing number in the world who deny the existence of God altogether and preach the secular doctrines of atheism and humanism instead of the worship of Christ.

All of these groups, though varying widely in some beliefs, share one common false belief: that the man Jesus, if He existed at all, was not divine, miraculous, or powerful in any way other than that which is common to mankind. If they profess a form of godliness at all, they deny the power thereof. This secularism is preached persistently and tenaciously by text books, news reporters, politicians, celebrities, and important men and women holding powerful positions in society. They broadcast their false doctrines with an air of intellectual superiority, often with a sneering, condescending disdain for those they call foolish enough to believe in Divine power. At worst, they are militant in pushing their doctrine of disbelief and reckless in their efforts to let the chips of shattered faith fall where they may; at best, they view the believers as poor fools who need to be rescued from their ignorance.

Choosing to draw a line of demarcation between those who believe in a Divine Christ and those who do not, I can’t say how widespread the nonbelievers are, or whether their recruiting efforts are succeeding. All I know is that the more I perceive the things of the world and the more that time goes on, it appears to me that the secularists’ attacks on Christians are growing more loud and persistent than they once were. It is within this toxic culture of spiritual warfare that my children are growing up, and that so many good, humble men and women are left feeling confused—and that makes me feel sad.

Though I am but a single voice and no one of any consequence in the world, I want to stand up today as yet another witness that Jesus Christ lives, that He is divine, and that He will come again to earth. I testify without reservation that the time will come when Jesus of Nazareth will return to this world and be seen as a glorified, exalted Man by all those who survive the calamities of the last days before His coming. I testify that He was born to a virgin mother under circumstances that cannot possibly be called anything but miraculous. I testify that He is, literally, the mortal Son of our Eternal Father. Angels really did herald His birth to a few, chosen witnesses who received their testimony. I testify that as a man, He really did walk the streets and paths of Palestine; that He calmed the seas; that He healed the sick in a miraculous way that man’s inventions cannot reproduce; that He raised the dead; and that He went about doing good: loving, lifting, serving, and acting out of pure, selfless love in all that He did. I testify that He was the only perfect man to ever walk as a mortal on this earth—that He kept every divine law perfectly and never had cause to apologize, repent, or ask forgiveness of another.

I testify that Jesus the Christ went with witnesses to the Garden of Gethsemane, where as a God, He took upon Him the weight and sins of the entire world. Through means we do not comprehend, He suffered the demands of broken law so that all the rest of us could find a merciful release from the eternal consequences of sin, through faith in Him. I testify that He took upon Himself not only our sins, but also our pains and sicknesses and troubles, so that He would be enabled to succor us individually in whatever trials and tribulation we are called to pass through. Through His grace we can overcome our own failings, the consequences of others' sins, and the natural turmoil of the world as it spins on its appointed axis.

I testify that Jesus the Savior allowed Himself to be taken by ignorant, hateful men and tried on spurious charges, convicted, spit upon, and scourged. He carried His own cross to the hill Golgotha where He was nailed to it and lifted up for all to see as He finished payment of the penalty for our sins. He finished His terrible work in completeness, paying the price for our salvation to the last bit, and then voluntarily gave up his life, His spirit departing from his mortal body. On the third day afterward, angels rolled away the stone from the tomb where his body was laid, and our triumphant Redeemer took up His body again and rose from the grave, breaking the bonds of death. Again through means not understood by mortal men, His triumph over death enables all mankind to rise from the dead.

I testify that all men will rise again from the dead to be judged by Christ the Lord. I testify that the spirit of man is eternal; that this mortal life is but a moment in the grand story of endless existence; and that the condition of life we will enjoy in future eternities depends entirely on our acceptance of Jesus Christ’s atonement for us and our willingness to be His disciples, to turn over our free will to Him, to emulate Him and render to Him all that we have and are. He bought us with the price of His own blood, and we owe all that we have to Him.

I testify that in the latter days Jesus of Nazareth appeared in glory to the boy Joseph Smith, and used him as the appointed vessel to restore the full authority and organization of His church. The church of Jesus Christ that once graced the earth during His ministry in Palestine has been restored in completeness to the earth again, with the express purpose to preach the everlasting gospel to the world, to provide the ordinances of salvation that enable families to be sealed for eternity, to relieve the burdens of the oppressed and afflicted, and to prepare the world for the second coming of the Savior. Jesus Christ is the head of His church, and I testify that He leads it today exactly has He led it after departing this world two thousand years ago, through the inspiration of the Holy Ghost to the apostle He has set at the head of the Church. I testify that today this chosen leader is Thomas S. Monson, and that he holds the governing keys today that were given by Jesus to Peter of old, and that the succession of key-bearing, apostolic leaders of Christ’s church will continue unbroken until He comes once again to lead it in person.

I testify that Jesus is the Christ, the Anointed One, chosen and set apart by our Father in Heaven to be the Redeemer of the whole human family, and is the only one who can save us. Salvation comes through no other name, by no other way, and by no other conditions than those that Christ the Lord has laid out for us. I testify that He created this world under the direction of our Father, that He redeemed this world through the shedding of His own blood, and that he will judge the world with a perfect, righteous judgment. I testify that someday, every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that He is our righteous Savior and that He is our King, our Judge, and our Lawgiver. Someday the haughty and unbelieving will bend in shame before His majesty and bemoan their fate as those who would not be redeemed, even though a Redeemer never ceased to seek after them during their probationary estate. And someday the meek, humble disciples of Christ will fall down before Him, and kiss His feet, and wet His feet with their tears, as He raises them up and crowns them with the angels of heaven, to dwell with Him in eternal splendor as families and friends, engaged in celestial work and glory that never ends.

I testify of these things through the witness of the Holy Ghost that is in me—the same witness given to Peter, Paul, Joseph Smith, Moses, Adam, and every other witness of God throughout the ages. Though I do not have the same calling these prophets had, I have the same witness through the same mechanism that they obtained it. I testify that every humble seeker of truth can obtain the same witness of the Holy Ghost through diligent study of God's word in the scriptures, earnest prayer, and a determination to obey and serve Jesus the Christ.

He is real. He lives today. And He will come again.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Wife Rule #163: I'm a Woman's Man

It was getting late in the afternoon and the ski lifts were closing. I stood at the top of the hill and sighed. This one was rated as a double-blue-square, or "advanced intermediate," and it was the easiest route I knew of to eventually get from where I was to the car. I used to think of myself as kind of an advanced intermediate skier, but I was starting to wonder. I looked at the steep grade, coated with an unforgiving layer of ice and littered with moguls, and wondered if I could do it, especially with this leg cramp I was developing.

My friend Lionel gave me an encouraging word and then took off down the hill, his 6-foot-2-inch frame gracefully dancing back and forth between the moguls. He looked like one of those guys on the ski commercials, one of the ones that made it look easy. Lionel made a lot of stuff look easy. He was tall, barrel-chested, good looking, successful by any measure of the word, and about the nicest guy you could ever know. He made you feel at ease, could talk about any subject, and could compliment you so naturally and with such honesty that you would never think to question his sincerity. Everyone likes Lionel, and indeed, there's nothing to not like. He's a natural leader, athletic, kind, generous, outgoing, and a wonderful family man. As I watched his picture-perfect form descending the ski slope, I thought to myself, Now there goes a true "man's man."

Which, coming back to the painful cramp in my leg, felt like quite a contrast to me at that moment.  You see, I've never quite fit in with "the guys."  Growing up, where most guys loved to talk sports, cars, and rock-and-roll, my interests were in academics, art, and classical music.  Other guys dreamed of being a pro athlete; I dreamed of being a concert pianist.  Other guys spent hours watching, studying, and memorizing statistics about their sports heroes.  I spent hours tinkering on my computer.  While others were pumping iron, I was pumping out drawings.  When many of my friends would discuss their favorite Pink Floyd or Led Zeppelin tunes, I tried--without any measure of success--to bring Harry Connick, Jr. into the conversation.

And things aren't that different now.  I still find that my musical tastes gravitate towards those more commonly held by 60-something-year-old women (Mormon Tabernacle Choir and Michael Buble, anyone?)  My lack of athletic ability only grows more pronounced as I struggle to figure out how to help my sons learn the common sports of the day.  The first pinewood derby with my freshly-minted cub scout was saved only because you can buy pre-cut cars now--I don't even own a saw.  And I still spend too much time on the computer (you're looking at Exhibit A).

Instead of growing gracefully older, I'm growing pleasingly plumper.  Instead of having a swell cleft in my chin (like Gaston), I have two (going on three) chins.  I kind of went straight from high-school pencil neck to happily-married padded neck.  I completely missed the sweet spot somewhere in-between.

Somehow, miraculously--even bewilderingly--this never mattered to my wife.  When we met, even though she's a good athlete, she didn't care that I'm not--she was happy that I studied hard.  She didn't care that I'm not broad shouldered--she was happy that I'm smart.  She didn't care that I don't know how to fix cars or own tools--she's glad that I can get around on a computer.  She didn't care that I more closely resemble Mr. Potato Head than Arnold Schwarzenegger--she always wanted to marry someone who's "nice."

And now, 14 years later, we've got a great marriage and six wonderful children.  We're a happy, blandly average, middle-class family living in a middle-class neighborhood in the greatest country on earth.  All because my wife was willing to take a terrible chance on little old me.

So as I slowly and painstakingly made my way down the hill, slipping on the ice and stumbling over the moguls, I was reminded that no, I'm not in the "man's man" club.  Though I admire them and struggle to understand them, I'm at peace with the fact that I never will be one of them.  Heck, I'm not even a "women's man."  I'm simply a "woman's man."  One woman's man.

And for this life and forever, one is enough.