Friday, March 28, 2008

Wife Rule #33: Take it Easy on the Protien

As part of my continuing efforts to train up my two young sons in the Ways of Manhood, my two boys and I had a Man's Lunch today, while my gorgeous wife got her hair cut. And by a Man's Lunch, I mean that it involved BBQ sauce, something breaded and deep-fried, something greasy on a bun, and a basket of chili-cheese fries. Trans Fat and Protein. Yum.

Okay, the real truth is, that the only essential criteria involved in our lunch choice was that the restaurant contain an indoor jungle gym (my kids have dubbed these "Slide Stores.") Because we all know lunch time isn't for eating anyway; it's for screaming with delight and running across brightly-colored foam mats and through giant plastic tubes. No shoes or food allowed, of course, since we wouldn't want to add any dirt or grease to the pristine, booger-coated, plastic wonderland.

And horror of horrors, I forgot to get the hand sanitizer out of the car.

But disinfectant is really irrelevant, because once they get inside a Slide Store there isn't going to be any eating going on anyway. I think they each ate about five percent of their $5 lunch today. Luckily, despite being a Man, I was still savvy enough to only order one item for them both to share. But eating aside, they had a really good time today, and no one suffered any life-threatening injuries, so lunch was a success.

During the last few minutes of playing at the Slide Store, I noticed a woman seated at a nearby table who was attempting to take an open-book test. This was quite an ambitious goal, considering that her seat was in the geographical center of the the jungle gym, and the noise level surrounding us could only accurately be compared to about a hundred hyperactive howler monkeys sucking helium.

Seeing this undaunted woman press on took me back to when my wife and I were newly married and still attending college. My wife studied Nursing and had a baby during the last year or so of her program, so we knew all about forcing school and studying into less-than-ideal circumstances. But the real reason I bring all of this up is to relate an incident that happened to my wife as part of her clinical rotations as a nurse.

Our college campus was adjacent to one of our church's missionary training centers (MTC's), where departing young missionaries go to learn how to teach, and about the places, people, and languages they will encounter while serving. As part of their preparations, missionaries who are going to certain countries receive a series of immunizations. This is where the College of Nursing comes in, and why my wife was at the MTC giving a variety of shots that day.

One particular 19-year-old young man couldn't keep his wits about him when he saw the needles, some of them gargantuan size. When my wife gave him his shot, he sort of went woozy and then collapsed (he was apparently deficient in Protein--he needed to come to lunch with my boys and me). Luckily, my wife and another nurse caught him on the way down, so he didn't injure himself. He was only out for a few seconds, but when he came to, and found himself lying on his back and looking up into the beautiful face of my twenty-one-year-old wife, all dressed in white, he thought for a second and then timidly asked, "I'm not--I'm not in heaven, am I? Because you look like an angel."

I can't argue with him. I sometimes find myself looking at her and wondering the same thing. She does bear a certain resemblance.

Maybe it's partly because she takes it easy on the Protein.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Wife Rule #32: We Celebrate Life!

There are certain experiences we have in life that shape and define us in unusual ways. They cause a concept or idea that was abstract before to come into sharp focus. Our understandings are enlightened, and our view of the cosmos is expanded forever, even if only by a few inches. A new brick, solid as stone, is added to our personal pathway of progression.

I had such an experience about eight years ago, in the first few minutes after I received word that my maternal grandfather had died. This was my first time as an adult to lose someone close to me. My paternal grandfather died when I was a young teenager, but somehow my feelings during that experience were child-sized and simple comparatively, and I don't remember experiencing many strong emotions with his death.

But as an adult, this death was different. There wasn't a lot of sadness; Grandpa was old and had already lost most of the quality of life that he had previously enjoyed for so many years. There wasn't really much cause to mourn for Grandma's sake either. I didn't think she would suffer much because her mind was so feeble that in all likelihood she would need to be reminded each day that he had passed away.

But even without strong sadness, there was powerful emotion. For the first time I remember, I found myself contemplating the reality that someone I loved was gone, that I would never see Grandpa again in this life. Never again would I see the gentle twinkle in his eye, or his moustached, smiling mouth chuckle softly during a Sunday afternoon visit. This was someone I knew well, someone who was very real to me who had embarked on the next phase of the Great Adventure.

And suddenly I knew things I hadn't before. I knew that Grandpa still existed. I could feel it with every part of my consciousness. Grandpa was not really gone, but had just moved into another sphere where I couldn't see him anymore. His living spirit had abandoned his old, frail body, and he was now at peace from the trials and troubles we experience in our daily lives here.

I also knew that our separation was temporary; I would see him again some day, and eventually enjoy family associations with him and others I know in this life, living together, our spirits clothed in perfected physical bodies, never to die or be separated again.

My heart leaped at this sudden knowledge.

I had been taught these doctrines all my life, but it took experiencing the personal loss that comes with death, even in this relatively mild form, to drive them into my soul. In an unexpected way, this brief moment in time became one of my happiest memories, an important snapshot that was indelibly added to my picture album of God's goodness.

O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55)

The words no longer belonged to Paul, as mere prose printed on a page; they belonged to me. They had been etched into the fleshy tables of my heart. If every Bible in the world were somehow destroyed by fire or flood, this scripture would live on in me, indestructible. It was mine.

With my reality thus expanded, Easter could never be the same. Today we celebrated the great atonement of the Son of God on our behalf. Many times I have experienced the unspeakable joy of receiving forgiveness of my sins through His vicarious sacrifice. His suffering and death have long been part of my life. But now, with added experience, those joyful words spoken by the angels to His disciples burn radiant in my mind:

Why seek ye the living among the dead? He is not here, but is risen. (Luke 24:5-6)

Just as He rose from the dead on the third day, so will each of us in His own time. The greatest miracle ever to occur on this earth was not a one-time event that took place two thousand years ago, but is a living miracle today. It occurs anew every time, at the loss of a loved one, that the heart of a believer is touched with this Great Truth: the sting of death, no matter how bitter and exquisite it may be now, will eventually be swallowed up in the victory of Christ over it.

And so I know, that come what may in this life, any separation from my wife, my children, my parents, or my grandparents, is only temporary. How grateful I am that my own little family has been redeemed from both death and sin and can exist eternally! The stars may someday burn out; whole universes may come and go like the seasons; but families were designed to last forever! The path is prepared, and all we have to do is proceed down it in faith.

This sure knowledge adds beauty, and luster, and light, and eternal weight to relationships I treasure so deeply with my wife and other family members. She was not meant to flutter into my life for a brief moment only, like a butterfly on a flower, but is meant to become an eternal anchor to my immortal soul. It is not life, but death, that is a temporary flash in the grand history of creation.

Easter is truly a celebration of life. We celebrate our Savior's mortal ministry and the resplendant resurrection that followed his agony. We celebrate our own eventual resurrection, as enabled by Him. And we even celebrate our mortal lives, difficult as they sometimes are, because we know that every experience we have, every sacrifice we make, and every person we love while on this globe are important--each made significant through the knowledge that this mortal life is but a small moment in a grander plan, a shadow of a much, much better life to come.

But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57)

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Wife Rule #31: Sometimes a Woman Needs Roses

I have always struggled a little bit with buying my wife flowers. She loves flowers, and actually, so do I, so there's no lack of appreciation when I bring her some home. I blame the infrequency of my floralizations (that really should be a word) on two things, and they both relate to time.

First, it takes time to purchase flowers. There are several floral shops on my way home from work, so it's really not that out-of-the-way to make the stop. The real time-consuming struggle comes in picking out which bouquet I want to get. I can't always just go with the $2.99 Wal-mart mini-bunch, although I think my wife would prefer to have those regularly, rather than usually not having any. But price does matter.

See, there's an old family joke about my Grandma that comes into play here. She had a habit, when receiving a greeting card on any occasion, of turning it over immediately after reading it, to silently look at the price tag. She wouldn't ever comment on the price, but everybody knew that the numbers printed on the back were nearly as important as the words written inside the card. My mom and her sisters used to joke under their breaths at birthday parties:

"Sorry sisters, but I win this year: $3.95."

"Ha! Nice try, but I love her $4.25, a full thirty cents more than you!"

"Look and learn, ladies, because I've got a $4.95 ticket to Inheritance Heaven. When mom goes, the china set is mine! Bwa-ha-ha!"

This assessing-gift-value-based-on-cost gene must have trickled down into my DNA too, because I find myself standing in front of the floral display, thinking to myself: Hmmm, how much do I want to spend today? A $5 bunch just doesn't cut it, not after the steak dinner last night. That's got to be worth at least, say $1. Anything good for $6? Nope, the next jump is to $8, and those are all brown around the edges. Besides, the burrito I had for lunch today was nearly $8, and I love my wife more than a burrito, even if it was filled with sweet, savory pork. Hmm, those $14 bouquets look pretty good...

And this leads immediately into my second time-related dilemma: flowers just don't last very long, and usually spending more money doesn't lengthen the life of the bouquet. Can I really spend $14, or even $30 or more on special occasions, for a bunch of flowers that will be dead in a few days?

My wife loves the splash of color they add to the kitchen, so she usually keeps the vase on the kitchen table long after most of the flowers should have been sent to the Great Mulch Pit in the Sky. When one of them looks particularly pathetic she will usually weed it out, the result being that all flower arrangements, no matter how fancy they start out, quickly turn into identical bouquets of green filler with occasional carnation or daisy stragglers.

Of all the flowers that make it to our kitchen table, Roses tend to be the most expensive, and happen to also have the shortest lifespan. We have tried various tips and tricks, Martha-Stewart-Approved, to get them to last longer. But despite any family resemblance, Martha apparently lost her E.T.-like ability to communicate with roses while incarcerated at Camp Cupcake. I know this because, no matter how nice roses look when I bring them home and how meticulously we follow Martha's rose-perking advice, they droop suddenly and unexpectedly within two or three days. Flop, flop, flop they go. They are the Flowers of Narcolepsy. And throwing them away is depressing: $25 of spontaneous, red-hot love in the trash can, moans the voice in my head.

But still, sometimes a woman needs roses.

Why? Because they're beautiful and they smell good (I am referring to both the roses and my woman, of course). As Juliet once gushed to Romeo:

"What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
So gimme some roses right now, my love,
And prove you're not just a dorky dead-beat."

So the cultural expectation to give roses to my woman was set hundreds of years ago by none other than William Shakespeare himself, the man famous for writing sappy love stories where everyone ends up dead at the end. Hmmm....

But murders and suicides aside, roses are in. Thus, I face the High-Price-Short-Shelf-Life paradox every time I go to buy my wife flowers, as my penny-pinching, practical persona battles my suave soldier of sentimentality.

This paradox has caused me to ponder the temporary nature of so many of life's treasures. The sweet, distinct sound of a newborn baby's cry only lasts a few weeks, but how precious those cries are, and how long they ring in a mother's ears. A one-on-one weekend getaway, like a bunch of roses, only lasts a few days, but provides rejuvenating energy that lasts far longer. A sunset only lasts a few minutes, but can fill a whole night with pondering of the beauty of creation. A hug only lasts a few seconds, but warms a soul much, much longer. Every one of these temporary things adds a splash of color to our existence, and pays dividends of memory and emotion long after they are gone. They are the punctuation marks in what would otherwise be the Great Run-On Sentence of Life.

So, flowers it is. I think I'll get my wife some today. Maybe some roses.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wife Rule #30: They're Worth It

The sky is a clear, pale blue. Yellow sunlight illuminates the tops of the snowy peaks, casting purple shadows across the mountain saddles. It's a beautiful, late-winter morning.

And I'm angry.

My mood has nothing to do with the weather, but it does have a lot to do with the climate we live in today--the social climate. I generally think of myself as a pretty optimistic person. I try to see the good in others and in life, and I am usually very content to enjoy what's good in this world, while trying to ignore most of what's bad. But sometimes things get to me and grate on me and I can't suppress my disappointment and frustration.

Today's disillusionment comes from reading a few lines out of a recent Reader's Digest article. You know, Reader's Digest: the family-values-oriented, socially-conservative, all-American magazine that entertains you month after month. In it you read the every-day stories people submit about funny things that happened at work, or at home, or at the grocery store, or in some remote wilderness location where a hare-brained fool attempted something stupid, and narrowly escaped death, thereby defying Darwin's theory that nature should select these types of people out of the human gene pool (Headline: "Attacked by a Great White Shark! The Amazing Survival Story of Diving While Disguised as a 200-Pound, Wounded Tuna"). That's the Reader's Digest we all know and love.

So this morning, my happy mood was put into a tailspin when I read this:

"It's that time of year again, when men replay the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show or thumb through the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue while their women sit nearby feeling lousy about their postholiday weight gain." (January issue, page 166)

I have heard disturbing statistics and anecdotes about pornography use before and the devastating effects it has on love and affection, on marriages, and on women's self-esteem. But if Reader's Digest is printing statements like this as nonchalantly as if they were reporting on, say, trends in cheese consumption, something is very wrong with our culture.

And I'm sick of it.

I'm sick of hearing about men who are worms and refuse to crawl out of the mud. I'm sick of hearing how their women feel inferior because they can't measure up to a perverse fantasy that the men shouldn't be entertaining in the first place. I'm sick of hearing about the deterioration and destruction of the pure and holy relationship that ought to exist between a man and a woman. I'm sick of the beautiful, private, and sacred physical aspect of that relationship being paraded out in the open and publicly dragged through the mud, where the worms like to crawl.

I'm sick of always being on the defensive: of never being able to trust what I will find on prime-time TV, in the few magazines we still take, in most new movies, in many song lyrics on the radio, and even in news stories and footage from "reputable" news agencies. I'm sick of having to turn the channel on the TV during the few wholesome programs that are left, because the commercials are risque. I'm sick of being visually assaulted every time I stand in the supermarket checkout line by images of scantily-clad women. It sickens me to see the effect those images have on my four-year-old son, who does notice. I'm sick that my daughters, at their tender ages, are being taught persistently by the world that their bodies are play-things to exploit for attention and approval, instead of God-given gifts of wonder and beauty, and integral parts of their eternal souls.

I'm sick that women have almost universally been objectified and are seen by so many as creatures to be used as commodities to satisfy appetites or make money. I'm sick of the wide-spread acceptance of such terrible marginalization, by women themselves and by those who have promised to love and cherish their them above all else. I'm sick that women have been fed these lies for so long that many believe that it's not only okay for their husbands to indulge in pornography, but that it's their prime objective in life to look like the drug-addicted, bulimic, and unnaturally-enhanced models their husbands lust over. I'm sick of the deafening drumbeat of image, image, image that is drilled into our heads from dawn until dusk.

I'm sick of hearing about the inevitable consequences of our sex-saturated society: spouse and child abuse, rape, murder, adultery, and wide-spread failing of families. I'm sick of hearing of women I know whose husbands have become porn addicts and allowed their marriages to wither and die. I'm sick of fathers who have broken the hearts of their tender wives and lost the confidence of their children. Every broken family is a terrible tragedy.

Thankfully, there is something we can do about it.

We can remember that the marvelous human body was created in the image of God, male and female, and the inherent sacredness that is part of such a design. We can remember that the pattern of trust, respect, fidelity, and love that was established in Eden still works for the children of Adam and Eve today. We can remember that every woman is a daughter of God, and is by rights Royalty, with nothing to hold her back from soaring to Celestial heights if she can only remember who she is and act accordingly. We can help our women remember who they are by treating them like Royalty.

We can speak up against the tide of lies and filth that has engulfed our society. We can reject the subtle and explicit influences that try to crowd into our homes and lives by simply turning them off or throwing them away. We can tell the media outlets that have gone astray about our values and why we object to what they produce. We can affirm that sex is sacred and is meant only for husband and wife, in privacy and purity. We remember that the physical aspect of a relationship is only one part of a whole, and not the sum-total of what life or love is about. We can learn the profound truth that beauty is independent of physical form, and increases exponentially as pure love increases. We can teach these vital truths to our families, our neighbors, and the public at large.

We can and must do whatever it takes; there's too much at stake to stand still. Our women and children are worth it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Wife Rule #29: Rain is for the Birds

When I woke up this morning, I knew immediately that it was a Hawaiian Shirt Day.

My first clue was that is was still black as night when I finally rolled out of bed at 7:00 AM. The switch to daylight savings time hasn't helped my sleep, and late-term pregnancy hasn't helped my wife's either. So after finally giving up on an unfulfilling night of repeated awakenings, I stumbled to the bedroom window to see what kind of morning was there to greet me. The bottoms of the snow-covered mountains emitted a ghost-like glow from the bleary city light. The sun was apparently AWOL; the mountain tops were shrouded in swirling, black, misty clouds.

The pavement was still dry, but I knew it wouldn't last; the ominous clouds overhead meant business this time. Living in a desert, I have become accustomed to constant sunshine and clear blue skies punctuated by occasional cotton-white, fluffy clouds. I don't much care for rain, and rain in March is as bad as it comes. At this time of year the temperature during a storm typically fluctuates around the freezing point, turning the world into a sodden, slushy, sludge pool. Everything is gray and brown and soggy, the wonder of winter in the past and the promise of spring not yet apparent--like the uneaten half of yesterday's donut, still sitting out on the counter long after it should have been disposed of, stale and saturated with room-temperature hot chocolate. Blah.

Fortunately, about nine months ago I learned a potent remedy for such a day: my Hawaiian Shirt. This special shirt is a happy faded yellow, with black and midnight-blue silhouettes of palm leaves streaming from the shoulders down across the front. Every time I wear it I am greeted at work with mock greetings of "Aloha," and occasional wry comments about still being "stuck in Hawaii."

I have to admit that they're right. The Hawaiian shirt means a whole lot more to me than just pleasing colors splashed across a cotton canvas. It's an escape and a rebellion against my current circumstances. So I put on my headphones, turn on my favorite Jack Johnson album, In Between Dreams, and I am momentarily transported back in space and time to a highway coming out of Honolulu, in June of 2007...

Here too, it is dark and cloudy, but there's no lethargy or self-pity. To the contrary, my wife and I are zipping along the dark corridor without a care in the world. It's only about 7:30 at night, but it gets dark early in Hawaii. Due to a long layover in San Francisco, it's taken most of the day to get here, but at last, here we are!

It's taken seven years to build up enough frequent flier miles for two tickets to Hawaii, but that's not the main reason we've never come. We have four kids, the oldest is seven, and It's been seven years since we've spent longer than 18 hours away from our kids. If you do the math, you'll realize that there were precious few opportunities to properly enjoy Hawaii in the last seven years, between four pregnancies and four babies who were very attached to their mother.

But at last, after all the waiting and with the child care help of angel grandparents, the right opportunity is here. And so we are here, finally, together in Hawaii! The anticipation built within us like an insatiable emotional itch throughout the day, as drove and waited, and flew and waited again, and then finally arrived at our destination. When the kind lady at the rental car booth offered to upgrade our car to a convertible for only $10 per day, it took me approximately 4 seconds to decide.

So now we're cruising away from the airport, from the lights of the city, through a cut in the mountains to the far side of the island. Our luggage has been haphazardly piled in the back seat and the top is down. There is a warm, moist breeze blowing our hair in every direction at once, and filling our nostrils with satisfying freshness. We can't see a thing except the road a hundred feet in front of us, but it doesn't much matter right now. There's enough sensation to experience without sight getting in the way.

Suddenly, adding to our sensory smorgasbord, it begins to rain. Not the cold, harsh rain of a late-winter storm, but something more like a welcoming sea spray. Tiny drops splatter on the windshield, but the bubble of warm air in the cockpit of the car cushions us from the effects. The smell of fresh rain through tropical atmosphere permeates the mountain road. Every once in a while we can detect the cool evaporation of a few drops on our faces or forearms, which occasionally break through the bubble of protection provided by our swiftly-moving Mustang, to better soak in our surroundings.

And thus we ride, carefree and content just to be alone together in the rain on a warm, summer night.

Fast-forward a week or so, and we find ourselves on another island road, winding along the coastal erosion patterns of a jungle volcano. We stop the car to embark on a minor detour, a hike through bamboo forest and up a small gulch, to a series of tropical waterfalls. The ground is wet and slippery from the rains earlier that morning, so we make our way carefully along the muddy path. Water wets the intensely green, broad leaves, giving their waxy sheen an extra punch. It's humid, yet we don't feel it due to the perfection of the temperature, here in the island woods.

We reach the first falls, and with it, the small crowd that has chosen this trail today. Our book tells us that up the steep, slippery bank on the far side of the pool, the trail continues. So we splash our way across, and using some sturdy roots for support, ascend to the next segment. Another short walk through dense bamboo, and the path opens up to a much bigger, more beautiful freshwater pool, with a pleasant waterfall at the far end, gurgling happily. A family is just leaving; they tell us that we are the first ones they have seen since arriving here an hour earlier.

So we swim. We are both hesitant at first, not having ever swam in a wild jungle pool before. But after a toe-test reveals that the water temperature is as perfect as the air, we both jump in. The allure of the moment, along with no recollection of our book specifically mentioning pirrahnas or anything of the sort, erases our uncertainty. Soon we are exploring the far reaches of the pool, way over our heads both in water and in wonder. We check out the waterfall and discover crayfish and a small cave. My wife challenges me to jump off the rocks and we both take the plunge. We backstroke, we front stroke, we paddle and pause, with only the sound of the water interrupting the stillness of the jungle.

And then it begins to rain. We're already wet, and pleasantly warm, and the light shower seems to perfect the mood, as if Heaven itself were sending us a soothing scalp massage. So we extend our swim a little longer, two birds of paradise, alone in our own Eden. I think our Heavenly Parents must have spent a while in the garden alone, before bringing Adam and Eve into the picture. I know I couldn't have resisted.

Hmm, there's a break in the clouds, and it appears to be warming up. I'm sure glad I wore my Hawaiian shirt today. I just knew it would be a good day.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wife Rule #28: What Takes Our Breath Away

A friend of ours recently took some portraits of her eight-year-old daughter. Looking at the pictures, she commented wistfully that "sometimes, she takes my breath away."


I know just what she means. It's true that young kids provide easy fodder for comic relief: how can anyone help but have a little fun at the expense of a person who regularly ends up with spaghetti in his hair? Or a person who, not wanting to listen to your latest lecture, defiantly turns the other way and bonks her head directly into the kitchen counter?

It's also true that young kids can be downright aggravating at times, such as when you ask them to do something that seems simple, such as getting in their pajamas and brushing their teeth, and you come back thirty minutes later to find them inexplicably still involved in the complicated process of removing their pants.

And let's not forget dirty diapers. There's definitely something there that can take your breath away.

But there are also the "sometimes" when the fulfilment of being a parent sneaks up unexpectedly and surpasses your highest expectations. These gems are mined out of the mountain of day-to-day living with these marvelous little people, and come in surprisingly simple ways. They come with hugs and laughter; with assignment and accomplishment; with earnest imitation; with love notes and crooked drawings; and with sweet spirituality that seems way too big for these little souls.

They come in quiet moments when you look at your child and are suddenly overwhelmed by the largeness of her spirit; the goodness of his efforts; the beauty of her countenance; the vision of what he will someday be. These are the types of "sometimes" that fill a parent so completely that they take your breath away.

My wife and I should know. With our 4.9 kids, we have had our share of wonderful "sometimes" throughout the last eight years of parenthood.

There's the "sometime" that our oldest daughter Dawn, age two back then, was misbehaving on a public building tour. Her infraction consisted of wandering into a roped-off section of a room, where the ropes were arguably over her head and out of site anyway. After chiding her gently, my wife and I noticed she was missing. Looking around, we saw her in a far-off corner of the room, kneeling in toddler prayer and asking Heavenly Father to help her to be more obedient.

There's the "sometimes" when our daughter Rachel presents us with an adorably colored and cut-out paper kitty to hang on our bedroom door; a self-portrait (life-size) made of no less than eight sheets of printer paper, all cut and colored, including a whole piece just for the unnaturally-long neck; or the many randomly-shaped pieces of cut paper she left on our pillows shortly after receiving her very own pair of kiddie-scissors; or the sweet love notes she has left taped to the door in the garage, to greet me after a long day away at work.

There's the "sometime" that occurred just last week, when our four-year-old son Scott learned to ride his "two-weewa" bike without training wheels in approximately 2.5 minutes. I watched him ride up and down the sidewalk for a surprisingly long time, and I didn't get bored. The grin on my face was only exceeded by the joyful, yet dignified expression of pride he wore. He has hardly put his Official Two-Wheeler Bike down since, regardless of wind or weather.

There's the "sometimes" that consist of uncontrolled bouts of giggling and howling laughter that result from tickling our two-year-old son Andrew in the ribs. The wild glee in his smile and the eventual tears that begin to stream from his eyes, right as I reach that sweet spot of maximum tickle intensity without going overboard, are certainly enough to take away the breath of both of us.

And let's not forget the sublime "sometimes" of each child being born. There is something pure and holy about each birth: the veil separating heaven and earth, having grown already thin, is pierced momentarily by this tiny person, as she begins her temporary sojourn on earth. At these times I can sense the higher place she came from and I am reminded of the destiny she is meant to fulfill.

William Wordsworth said it so well in his "Intimations of Immortality:"

Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The Soul that rises with us, our life's Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home.

God our Eternal Father sent us here to learn and grow. I have no doubt that He is disappointed when we make messes; when we fuss and frown; when we ignore Him and disobey Him; when we turn defiantly from Him and bonk ourselves into the Countertop of Life.

Yet He has endowed each of us, His children, with the seeds of Divinity. And despite our tendency to hide the most noble aspects of our character, He provides us opportunities where our divinity sometimes shows through, and works with us tirelessly until we eventually embrace the divine nature we had from the beginning. He loves His children perfectly; much, much more than I love mine--for each of my own little people first belonged to Him.

Think of it: Trailing clouds of glory! Yes, they sometimes take my breath away.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Wife Rule #27: Life is for Longing

Have you ever been suddenly and unexpectedly overwhelmed by a deep longing for a loved one?

I have. It happened just minutes ago to me, for my wife. The conditions usually have to be just right: a time of quiet reflection, coupled with a poignant reminder of the love she has for me, usually coupled with just a touch of loneliness.

All three elements were there as I sat alone at my desk during lunch, all my coworkers having gone out today, reading a love note she had written to me. When these waves of longing hit me, my heart surges with desire to be with her, or at least to talk to her. So I called home.

No answer. Dang.

The longing doesn't last for long at such intensity. I know that by the time I head home from work tonight, my anticipation of seeing my wife and kids will have swallowed up the memory of this brief moment. Thus, my wife usually never hears about them. She might get a hint of my feelings by a slight inflection in my voice on the answering machine, but it's likely that she won't even notice because of the background noise that surrounds her most of the day. It's the same reason I don't notice these feelings on most days either.

So, to ensure that my longing for her companionship doesn't go untold, I am writing it down today.

I long to be with you. I long to hold you in my arms. I long to see you smile, to see your eyes shine. I long to hear your voice, that voice that is uniquely yours in the world. I long for the warmth of your love and affection, the in-person version of the same love and affection I felt in your note. I long to give you my love and affection in return. Five more hours is too long to wait. I want to be with you, to talk with you now.

Life has a way of crowding us with so many things to do, many of them necessary and worthwhile, that it takes conscious effort to make time for the ones we love. So we long for them. That longing, while slightly sad, is a good feeling too. It serves as reinforcement of our bonds, reinforcement that is constantly needed because of the crowding that comes with life. In a paradoxical way, eating our bread by the sweat of our faces (Genesis 3:19), which I interpret as doing those necessary, mudane chores that take up so much of our lives, both separates us from our loved ones and strengthens our love for them. It's a necessary part of God's plan for our progress because of both the learning and the longing it creates.

I feel like I've learned enough today. I'll see you soon, sweetie.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Wife Rule #26: There's Always Time for a Dance

I think it all began with the Valentine’s Sweetheart Dance of 2006.

My kids helped with the decorations, which turned out very cute and wobbly (our oldest was only six, after all). Construction paper hearts and streamers graced our basement family room. It was all for the sake of surprising Mommy, so they really put their little hearts into it. There was a plate of frosted pink sugar cookies, and raspberry lemonade in a punch bowl. I compiled a special Valentine’s Dance CD, with songs specially picked out so we could practice our ballroom dancing. There were Cha-chas, Fox Trots, Triple Swings, West-Coast Swings, Waltzes, and a whole slew of slow-dancing songs. The dance was originally just going to be a date for my wife and me, but after seeing how much work the kids had put in, we both decided to extend it for another day and make it a family affair.

We have been dancing together ever since.

The original event was a smashing success. We invited my parents over to join in the festivities, so we had eight people crowding the dance floor. Our girls both dressed in their most formal Disney Princess dress-up gowns, and two-year-old Scott insisted on clipping a tie to his red fire engine pajama shirt. Dawn, the oldest, took delight in dancing with Daddy and Grandpa, while Rachel was mostly content to twirl and spin on her own. Turbo-charged Scott spent the evening racing around the room, occasionally pausing when he felt particularly inspired to do some sort of rapid shuffling of his hands and wrists in front of his face, kind of like a hyperactive hamster grooming itself. Baby Andrew was content just to be held on the sofa, and with four adults present, he was in Holding Heaven.

The Valentine’s Dance CD quickly became the number one smash hit at our house. We have worn it out with repeat playings—at breakfast-time, lunch-time, dinner-time, play-time, car-time, anytime. Sometimes when that special music plays, dancing ensues again. We’re usually in the middle of dinner, or dishes, or something else, but why resist? Whatever chore we leave behind for a few minutes will still be there when we’re done with our dance.

Rachel seems to be the first one to request a dance with Daddy, and Dawn soon follows. They are both really quite good at it. We haven’t taught them any formal dance steps, but they instinctively know how to follow my lead, so I can twirl them around, spin them, and occasionally perform the ever-popular toss-up-and-dip routine—you know, the one that when I do it with my wife, results in her leg sticking out with her head thrown back. Ooo la la.

So I dance with my girls, and for a few golden minutes, I transform from Daddy into Prince Charming. And they transform into little miniatures of my wife: creatures of grace and beauty, with my wife’s long, golden hair twirling, with my wife’s irresistible smile grinning up at me, and with my wife’s deep blue eyes shining into mine, communicating a special joy and affection and connection that pierces me through like Cupid’s arrow.

I love every second of it.

All the fun doesn't go unnoticed by Scott, who grabs my wife’s hands and engages her in a spastic squirrel spin. Soon he is up in her arms, and they too, are dancing and spinning around, their rhythm punctuated by the occasional war-cry, followed by a soft, swift punch to her gut. It’s okay—we both know that it’s just Scott’s way of saying “I love you,” so our reminders of How to Treat a Lady are gentle and come with a side-order of smile.

Andrew’s not going to let us get away without including him either. By this time he has abandoned whatever toy vehicle he was busy crashing, and has sprinted the distance of the room at approximately 200 steps per second, his little legs a blur, with his arms up, and his trademark cry, “Hole me! Hole me! Hole me!” So my wife lets down Scott and scoops him up, and they begin their dance.

Well, if every boy in the house has had a dance with my wife but me, that’s just not right. So I let my girls go, and with a mighty cry of “ANDREW SANDWICH!!!” I wrap my arms around my little boy and his mother, squeezing the bejeebies out of them both.

Soon the song ends, and with it, so does our dance. It’s okay, because there's more where it came from. As long as there are chores to be done, there will always be more dancing to interrupt them—at least if I have my way.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Wife Rule #25: Prayer Pays

My religion teaches the importance of praying together as a family, and I fully endorse this activity. Besides the very real benefits of blessings and protection upon our family, prayers together each morning and evening serve as vital bookends to our daily activities; they serve to hold us up and help us keep our balance. They force us to come together, even if just for a few minutes, and cut out all outside noise. Admittedly, we can create quite a bit of noise all by ourselves, and the quality of prayer time varies greatly depending on the energy levels of everyone involved. But even our least effective family prayers produce tangible dividends, which are conspicuously missing on the occasions when we don't pray. Our family needs prayer together.

There are also lessons being taught by each offered prayer. Hopefully our children are learning gratitude, faith, and something of our values by listening to the prayers that my wife and I utter, and we learn humility and love and what is important to our children by listening to their thoughts. Prayer serves as another form of family communication, not only linking heaven and earth, but linking us to each other.

If the bonding benefits of family prayer are powerful, then the couple prayers my wife and I offer each morning and night have even greater potential. For one thing, the practical 20-second time limit we often self-impose with our kids isn't necessary when two adults pray together; we can take whatever time we need to express the feelings in our hearts. I don't know of many better ways to learn about my wife's in-most appreciations, aspirations, and anxieties, than to listen carefully when she prays aloud. I have learned a lot about her and those she loves, from our couple prayers together.

And I hope that she learns about me too, by listening to the prayers I say when it's my turn. Like her, I don't ever alter my prayer for her ears, but it's always nice to know that she's listening and to feel connected at the end of a prayer. Don't get me wrong--the quality of our couple prayers isn't always high either. Often times it's pretty late before we get around to getting to our knees, but again, the prayers always pay dividends.

Now, entertainment value isn't usually one of those dividends, but then again, couple prayers don't usually involve background singing, either. There are exactly two instances of this unusual behavior in our marriage history. The first time, I was saying the prayer, when my thoughts kept being drawn into a quiet, pleasant, humming sound. Was it a heavenly choir? I finally realized that my wife's mind had wandered completely away from the prayer and she was quietly humming one of her favorite tunes (she sounded pretty good, too).

I have to admit that I found this minor deviant behavior highly amusing, and I gave her a pretty good ribbing about it afterwards. Not to say that I usually focus like a laser beam during her prayers--my mind frequently catches hold of something she says, and then wanders off down a different path than where she has gone in her prayer. It's a fault I have struggled with for years. But honestly, who ever heard of becoming so distracted that you start singing an unrelated song during a prayer? I chuckled myself to sleep that night.

So of course, you know that I was perfectly poised for a big fall when a few days later I found myself singing a song while she was saying our couple prayer! I have no rational explanation for this odd behavior except that the Just Desserts Fairy must have visited our room that night. When my wife finished praying, she had that look in her eye--you husbands know it--that half-twinkle, half-smirk that lets me know I've been had. She of course was more dignified than I was, and refrained from teasing me too hard about it. But I had to admit, I felt pretty silly.

So what is the Wife Rule in this story? Perhaps just that I learned not to be too eager to enjoy myself at her expense, because my turn to foot the funny bill, no matter how unlikely it seems at the time, always manages to come around. As they say, "The Couple that Prays Together, Laughs Last." Or something like that.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Wife Rule #24: Baby Names are Never Boring

I don't know why it is, but my wife and I just have a terrible time picking out baby names. You'd think that since we're facing the task for the fifth time, we would have figured it out by now, but we haven't. Thus far, our track record is a perfect four-for-four of not deciding what to name our kid until we've looked into his or her face directly.

Don't ask me why the task suddenly becomes easier after the child is born. Since all newborn babies kind of look like grumpy, wrinkly, old men for the first couple of days, you'd figure we'd have given all our kids, whether male or female, names like "Herbert," "Clyde," or "Lester." But somehow, we have managed to come up with sensible, attractive names for each of our four children.

I honestly think the impetus to make The Big Decision finally comes when the paperwork comes due to register the child on government records. There is only one thing scarier than making a life-long commitment to a particular name, in a gamble that will result in either our child's approval or disappointment in our choice during the duration of mortality: the prospect of having to file additional government paperwork due to delaying the decision. Thus, we always choose a name right before leaving the hospital to come home. This is usually some time between packing my wife's bags and eating the last bite we can stomach of the cafeteria pudding that came with lunch, in an attempt to squeeze the last possible seconds out of our procrastination ("Think of a name yet?" "Can't talk about it wight now, my mouf iv full of pudding!").

So we know our routine. But it's not like we don't discuss baby names until we get to the hospital. No, an important part of the pregnancy tradition is spending literally months agonizing over our list of possibilities (usually short), trying to find the happy medium where our two personal preferences intersect.

Boy names are especially daunting, since I issue an automatic veto for (1) most modern-sounding names, (2) any name of any boy that was ever a jerk to me growing up, which constitutes a long list of the non-modern-sounding names, and (3) any name that sounds like a city in Texas, Wyoming, or Montana ("Butte" is definitely out). There's nothing wrong with most of these names; they're just not for me.

Girl names carry much less baggage, since my wife doesn't have too many spoiler memories of girls she grew up with, and since I don't have too many negative associations with specific girl names ("Britney," "Spears," and "Madonna" excepted, of course).

So, we usually have three or four names that have reached the top of our list, long before the baby is due. We both know that the likelihood of any newcomer to the list becoming a serious contender, kind of like Ralph Nader gaining traction in any political race except for the Czar of Mars, is remote. But that doesn't stop us from spending hours trying to drum up new life in our hopeless quest to resolve The Big Decision before we go to the hospital.

The conversation usually goes something like this:

Me (casually): "Soooo, what have you been thinking about lately as names for the baby?"

My Wife: "Oh, the usual," and she lists of the predictable three or four names already on the list.

Me: "Let me reiterate, I don't really like [names two and three]. [Name one] is livable, but [name four] is my favorite."

My Wife: "Well, that's a bummer, because let me remind you again that [name four] is my least favorite of the bunch. I really prefer [name two]." It's at this point that we realize that absolutely nothing has changed since the last time we discussed it. So we are forced to either give up the conversation, or start improvising the script:

Me (grasping at straws): "How about Shadrach? That's a good, solid, biblical name."

My Wife: "This baby is a girl."

Me: "Oh yeah. Well, I suppose Jezebel and Bath Sheba are both out, then. No harlot names."

And thus begins the immediate downward spiral in our conversation that we both knew was coming.

"Grenelda!" "Nancy Lou!" "Sissy!" "Bubba! No, wait, Bubbette!" "Hannah Montana!" "Renelda the Disco Queen!" The possibilities flow out like water from a leaky toilet. At least we're having a good time with it--this part of the conversation is never boring.

We apparently have the same problem as the legendary Mrs. McCave of Dr. Seuss's profound cultural masterpiece, Too Many Daves:

"Did I ever tell you that Mrs. McCave
Had twenty-three sons and she named them all Dave?
Well, she did. And that wasn't a smart thing to do.
You see, when she wants one and calls out, 'Yoo-Hoo!
Come into the house, Dave!' she doesn't get ONE.
All twenty-three Daves of hers come on the run!"

So begins the epic saga. He goes on to list a variety of zany names that the ill-fated Mrs. McCave wishes she had used instead of "Dave," which conveniently rhyme:

"And often she wishes that, when they were born,
She had named one of them Bodkin Van Horn
And one of them Hoos-Foos. And one of them Snimm.
And one of them Hot-Shot. And one Sunny Jim."

And thus it goes. By the time Dr. Seuss gets around in the poem to "Marvin O'Gravel Balloon Face" and "Oliver Boliver Butt," he has finally sunk to the name-quality-level attained in the conversations my wife and I have, when discussing what to name our dear little one. Life is tough when you can only agree on one name, and it's already been used on a previous child.

So, we have our work cut out for us. We only have one month to go before the deadline. But don't worry--I'm sure we'll pull it off again. Or, we'll have some serious explaining to do when our little Grenelda starts to grow up.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Wife Rule #23: Naked But Not Ashamed

Last summer, I attended a day of the girls' camp sponsored by my church. I was serving the vital role of Man Help, which meant that if the camp was attacked by any bears or mountain lions or emotionally unbalanced Man Help from another camp, I was to serve the vital role of offering myself to the attacker as a snack. Hopefully it would take enough time to chew me up and spit me out for the girls and the women leaders to make their escape. At least that's how it probably would have worked if a wild beast had attacked the camp on my watch, because all I had to defend the girls and myself were some hot dog buns and a can of non-stick cooking spray.

Well, in the lazy, late afternoon, the day's planned activities were done and there were a couple of hours to kill before dinner. Being a man in a woman's world, I didn't really know how to contribute, so I decided to kick back in a lawn chair in the center of the camp, where I could keep my keen eyes on the lookout for wild beasts in all directions. While I was thus engaged, the girls gathered together, and as girls are wont to do, started sharing their Most Embarrassing MOments (MEMOs).

Well, if you can imagine a gaggle of twenty or so teenage girls, gabbing together at girls' camp about their MEMOs, you can see how inhibition would quickly give way to candid confession, the entertainment value of each story topping the previous. It did not occur to me at the outset that this could spiral into an uncomfortable situation for the Man Help. Not having had the experience of being a teenage girl, and having been fairly shy around most girls when I was a teenager, I naively listened to the start of their MEMO session with interest. Surprisingly, it turns out that the themes of most teenage girls' MEMOs tend to be teenagey and girly! You know, the kind of themes, such as wardrobe malfunctions and (ahem) other girl functions, that you wouldn't necessarily bring up in church, but seem appropriate at girls' camp, when only teenage girls are present. So these girly themes surfaced in their MEMOs again and again.

It didn't take more than a few stories for me to wish that I could shrivel up and crawl into a deep hole. Yet, I had committed to stick to my post in the camp as Man Help, so I couldn't just get up and leave. There wasn't exactly anywhere else in the camp I could go either, out of earshot of the MEMO festival. I quickly decided that the best way to avoid processing the mental images that I was trying not to overhear was to lean back in the lawn chair, close my eyes, and try to fall asleep. I knew full well that sleeping in such a situation meant risking having my lips or eyelids or fingernails painted in girly colors, but at that point I was willing to take that risk (and that's saying something!). If anyone there had asked me at that time what my most embarrassing moment was, I might well have replied, "I'm having it right now."

Well, I succeeded in drifting off, and thus survived girls' camp (without incurring any paint damage, either, though nefarious plots were in the works when I woke up). All that MEMO talk made me think about my most embarrassing moment. I think there's a clear winner, and my wife was there to witness it.

While we were still in college, we had gone for a date one night to see two movies at our local dollar theater. When we entered the first theater, we took an immediate right, and walked down the black-painted hallway until it opened up into the theater. By the time the first show had ended, the previews had already started for the second show. Thus, the black-painted entrance to the second theater was already dark when we walked through the door. So naturally, I made an immediate right, and walked straight into the wall.

My velocity was such that I made solid contact simultaneously with my face, arms, and knees. With the resulting flailing of my limbs, I collapsed completely and managed to take down a large metal trash can in the process. This, of course, provided the appropriate auditory fanfare, a giant gong sound to alert the whole theater to the presence of the guy who, exhibiting the intelligence of Tartar Sauce, had just pasted himself squarely into a wall.

I have to admit that I felt so dumb immediately afterwards that I would have been embarrassed even if I were the only person to have witnessed my fall. My wife and I both got a good laugh out of the situation at the time, and we chuckle now whenever we remember it. But as I have thought about this story, I have noticed something interesting in my memory of it: I felt a little self-imposed shame at the time, but I can honestly say that I never felt ashamed because of my wife being there. For some reason, I'm almost glad that she was there to witness me crashing and burning in all my glory, so we can share the laughs together now.

I think the reason why I feel this way is because of the way she treats me. I don't have to worry about impressing her; she loves me. I don't have to worry about saying the right thing around her; she loves me. I don't have to worry about meeting any artificial expectations; she loves me. I don't even have to worry about whether I look dumb, or crash into a wall and take out a garbage can in front of her; she always loves me.

In short, she knows and loves me better than anyone else on earth, for the depth of our relationship reaches to the unembellished, honest, naked core of my heart. I can't hide anything from her. She knows my weaknesses, my fears, my failures, and my faults, but never holds them against me. Sometimes I think she may even love me better than I love myself. With such unconditional love buoying me up, there is really no room for shame, as far as my wife is concerned.

I think such unconditional love is just what the author of Genesis had in mind when speaking of Adam and Eve: "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25).

Not ashamed, because of love. That's the kind of naked that will never become a most embarrassing moment.