Sunday, May 25, 2008

Wife Rule #51: Dandelion Whine

One of my wife's friends gave us a rather unusual wedding present: three small, glass vases, about three inches high. With the vases was a note that said something like this: "When I was a little girl, I used to pick dandelions and give them to my mom. She would put them in tiny glass vases like these. I know it's a little early, but I wanted you to have some vases ready so that someday, when you have little girls, you will have a place to put the dandelions they pick for you."

Charming notion. Over ten years later now, that sentimental gift has indeed been used as my wife's friend intended. My wife has been the recipient of many bestowals of dandelions, picked fresh from our lawn, and given with love from our adoring children.

There's just one problem with all of this: I detest dandelions.

Not my children giving them--that's all well and cute--but I resent the very existence of dandelions. To me, they are the poster-child species of the Noxious Weed category of plant life on this earth. They pop up out of nowhere, they multiply like crazy, and it takes a LOT of effort to eradicate them once they become established. They are the cockroaches of suburban flora.

This spring, the dandelions in my yard got an extra leg up on us, for two reasons. The first is that it has been unseasonably wet and cool. The second is that the birth of our fifth child coincided with the optimal time to spray dandelions, which is after they are big enough to easily spot in the grass, but before their nauseatingly-merry, stupid little yellow flowers turn into puff-ball landmines of reproductive potential. Thus, while we were fully into sleep-deprived-new-parent-zombie-survival-mode, the weeds outside were throwing wild parties, drinking too much, and multiplying with reckless abandon--a miniature Woodstock in our lawn.

The rainy weather also contributed to preventing me from breaking out the lawn mower. So it was that I watched out the window with growing anxiety and mounting feelings of helplessness as the dandelion stalks in my lawn grew taller and taller in our grass. The puff-balls of fluffy white parachutes for the seeds had ascended to optimal position for the frequent breezes to carry them into every nook and cranny of our yard. It was too late to spray this generation; the damage had already been done.

When I finally mowed for the first time I used the grass-catcher bag, which I almost never do, in a vain effort to vacuum up as many dandelion seeds as possible and reduce my future spraying job. The lawn was so long at this point that I filled three times as many bags as usual, but all to no avail. In the process of running over the seed stalks, bending them to the point that the blade could cut them, all the seeds were inevitably dislodged. The breeze picked them up in great swirling clouds, and it soon seemed as if I was mowing the lawn in a blizzard--with those despicably-downy seeds gently lodging themselves where I had just mowed, in our flower beds, in our window screens, in my hair, in my eyes, in my ears, and for all I know, invading bodily places where they absolutely had no business in going. Dandelions apparently don't understand about personal space.

I thought a lot about dandelions that day. I remembered reading a book in junior high school called Dandelion Wine, by Ray Bradbury, which as I recall cast dandelions in somewhat of a back-to-basics, childhood-nostalgia light. I don't know whether Dandelion Wine is considered one of "The Classics" (definition: a book that would never sell if your English teacher didn't make it required reading), but I know other books by Ray Bradbury are in this category. This memory, in the current context, only confirmed my long-held suspicions that most of the authors of "The Classics" were sickos.

And then I had sort of a realization. The little yellow flowers in the lawn, and the noxious flurry of dandelion spawn swirling around me, though failing to conjure up childhood nostalgia for me, as it did for Ray Bradbury or my wife's friend, did have some symbolic meaning in my life. You see, the dandelions in my yard are the consequences of decisions my wife and I have made over the years: decisions to marry, to have one child, then another, and another, and another, and finally, to have our most recent addition. Each child added to our family bouquet is a serious commitment, a precious soul that Heaven has entrusted to our care here on earth. And with each of these most precious assets we have gained, we have had to sacrifice a little bit more.

I thought about the sweet little round pink face of our newest addition, her wild hair sticking out in every direction, her tiny fists curled around my finger as she looks penetratingly into my eyes, and then I thought about dandelions. I was reminded of the story of Jesus visiting Mary and Martha:

Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house.

And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word.

But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me.

And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things:

But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:38-42)

Mary chose to spend time hearing the Savior speak rather than serving dinner. Wasn't choosing my little children, who are like the Savior in so many ways, also a more noble cause than my personal jihad against dandelions? Perhaps, in the midst of my mowing, I realized that I too had "chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from [me.]" After all, no matter how diligently I spray, there will always be another crop of dandelions to battle, but my time with my children is precious and limited.

Besides, if I killed all the dandelions, what would my children put in the vases?

Friday, May 23, 2008

Wife Rule #50: It's a Matter of Respect

There's not enough respect in the world today.

There's not enough respect for our country. Or respect for the military. Or respect for the offices that our political leaders hold. Or respect for our freedom. Or respect for the sacrifices that purchased that freedom. Or respect for values that have held our country together for over two centuries.

There's not enough respect for those who have gone before us. Or respect for the elderly. Or respect for our parents. Or respect for our children. Or respect for the unborn.

There's not enough respect for marriage. Or respect for motherhood. Or respect for fatherhood. Or respect for family relationships in general.

There's not enough respect for our magnificent bodies. Or respect for the process by which our bodies are created.

There's not enough respect for this planet. Or respect for the creatures we share this planet with. Or respect for the magnitude of the universe that lies beyond our own little sphere. Or respect for all of God's creation in general.

In short, there's not enough respect for God anymore.

We are taught from all angles to criticize, to demean, to diminish, to poke fun at, to laugh at, to look for flaws and ignore what's right, and finally, to disregard too many sacred things. The world has largely lost respect for--which is inevitably followed by forgetting about--the tremendous blessings we have been given, and with that, largely lost respect for--and forgotten--the Giver of these blessings.

Not my wife.

I am blessed--greatly blessed--to be married to a woman who respects all of the sacred things I mentioned above. She knows that our lives on this planet, in this country, with our bodies, in our families, as children of our God, are precious gifts whose value excels all the lesser things that seem to command the world's respect.

My wife and I, like many of you, have become painfully aware of the general lack of respect for the Highest. One of the first times I realized this in clarity was about eight years ago, while watching a G-rated children's film where the main characters--young children--took God's sacred name in vain over a dozen times.

This behavior barely registers with movie critics as "minor profanity" nowadays. This behavior has become considered "cute" by the world and is canonized with an acronym so that it can more conveniently be "texted" back and forth in rapidity. Imagine, now we can break one of the great Ten Commandments and profane the name of our Creator with only as much thought as it takes to execute three character strokes! What a world we live in today.

There was a time in our world when the name of God was held so sacred--in such high respect--that language was altered to avoid using His name so frequently, rather than being altered to abuse it more conveniently.

My wife and I are determined to make our home a safe haven from the world of profanity that surrounds us. Our children will grow up in an environment where the name of our Father in Heaven is held in such high esteem that a feeling of reverence, of respect, enters the room when we talk about Him.

Some of you may have noticed that I never use my wife's name in these Wife Rules. Why would I protect the name of the one person on this earth that I love and adore above all others?

It's simply a matter of respect.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Wife Rule #49: We're Always Better Together

My wife and I recently attended a home show. You know, the kind of excess-on-parade spectacle that always manages to convince me that if I ever want to be happy, I've just got to have a waterfall in our yard. Preferably as part of the swimming pool complex. And an indoor bowling lane.

Anyway, the master bedroom in one of the homes we visited had not one, but two giant flat-panel TVs. I stood there, pondering why in the world one room could possibly need two high-end, luxury model, flat-panel TVs, when my wife and I still seemed to get by just fine with only one old-fashioned bubble-screen television in the house. (Okay, actually, we have two, but one is in the exercise room and seldom gets used, and is so old that it only shows three different colors and only picks up three different channels. So that one doesn't really count as a TV, any more than our microwave does. Come to think of it, I think the microwave gets better reception.)

While processing all these very important thoughts, I must have looked incredibly unenlightened, because suddenly I found us being approached by the male half of an older couple who happened to be in the room at the same time as us. With a knowing tone in his voice, he offered, "I'll tell you young folks the secret to forty years of happy marriage."

This ought to be interesting, I thought, sizing him up. Obviously looking like Arnold Schwarzenegger wasn't the secret. That came as a huge relief. I look more like Mr. Potato Head.

He continued: "The secret to a happy marriage is two TVs with headphones in the master bedroom. That way she can watch her show, and I can watch my show, and no one has to hear the other's show!"

That was it. The golden key. Why didn't I think of that? Why isn't that the standard first step in marriage counselling?

While retreating into headphones and shutting out the sound of one's spouse's existence for a couple of hours every night might prevent arguing over which show to watch, maybe--I know I'm going out on a limb here--there's more to a healthy marriage than two TV shows at a time?

When God created Adam and Eve in the garden, I don't recall anything about issuing them each a set of head phones (although as an aside, I'm quite certain that the serpent listened to a lot of rap music). In fact, besides the clothes they were given, I think God mostly just gave them knowledge and commandments to work together and be a family. Fighting over who was in charge wasn't to be a part of their union, and neither was shutting each other out. What was the secret then?

Perhaps the answer lies in Adam's realization after God first brought Eve to him:

This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)

Adam realized that symbolically he and Eve started out as one flesh, and as a couple, they were to cleave together and act as one, always.

They did this so very well. Even when Eve at the forbidden fruit, Adam chose to eat with her, and they left the garden together, side by side (Genesis 3:6,23). They knew that each depended on the other for more than just procreation; they depended on each other for work, for companionship, for conversation, for growth and learning, for life. They were each fully invested in the other's happiness. Even if sticking together meant a change of address, hard work, challenges, sickness, and eventual death, they knew it was better to go through it together than alone.

My wife and I fell in love with Jack Johnson's song Better Together while on our trip to Hawaii together. There's a few lines in this song that describe just how I feel about my wife:

Love is the answer,
At least for most of the questions in my heart
Like why are we here? and where do we go?
And how come it's so hard?
It's not always easy and
Sometimes life can be deceiving
I'll tell you one thing: its always better when we're together

I think these few lines tell it all: the story of Adam and Eve, and the story of all happy couples. Life is full of questions, many of which we don't know all the answers to, but some things are certain: Love is the overriding purpose for life, and we're always better together.

With or without twin flat-panel TVs.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Wife Rule #48: No RHIP Here

My wife spends a lot of time up at night with the baby, doing things that she alone can do. So I try to be extra helpful in the morning. Part of my responsibility is to find suitable "babysitting material" for the kids, so that they will stay quiet and away from my bedroom while I get ready for the day, and my wife and baby sleep.

On Saturday mornings (like today), preserving peace and quiet can be especially challenging, because all four of my non-baby kids are at home for the long haul. This morning I really wanted to get some exercise in, followed by some intense work in the yard in the cool of the morning. Knowing how disastrously things can get out of hand when neither parent is refereeing for 45 minutes or so, I decided that extra-strength babysitting material was called for: possibly a full-length feature movie. So I gave very explicit instructions to the kids:

"I'm going to run to the canyon and back. I need you to all be nice and quiet and not fight and not whine and not argue and to stay away from where Mom and Charity are sleeping." I looked at their four angelic faces, staring intently at me with anticipation of what they knew was coming. "So you guys are allowed to turn on cartoons."

"Yes! Yeah! Allright! Yee-haw!" they sang back in chorus.

Watching cartoons is the ultimate carrot in our house for good behavior, but there was more to my foolproof plan (I am so clever sometimes, I even amaze myself). I continued, "If you guys ever get into an argument about which cartoon to watch, I want you to turn on a movie instead." I knew they would probably be arguing about what to watch within five minutes after I left, and I figured the movie solution would squelch any bickering before it blew up into full-blown brawling. I chuckled at my ingenuity, having just bought my wife and myself two uninterrupted hours of peace.

Whoa, I almost forgot the most critical part of the plan. We'd better agree on which movie they're watching now, or the whole thing would inevitably collapse. "Let's decide on the movie," I beckoned, and started calling out movie names.

Let's see, try gender-neutral ones first: "Lady and the Tramp!"

"Yes." That's one... "Uh huh." Two! Could we have a winner? "I hate that one." Dang.

"Kronk's New Groove!"

"Uh huh!" One. "Yippee!" Two! "Nope!" Dang. "You always say no!" That's true. "No I don't!"

This predictable cycle repeats, until finally they agree on a movie. It's not the preferred movie for any of them, but it's an acceptable solution for all. I think this compromise will work.

I look at my watch: Hmmm. Only five out of my planned seven minutes was spent bickering about picking the movie. Not bad. My morning was looking pretty good so far.

I went back to the bedroom to quietly put my running clothes on. When I came back two minutes later, on my way out the door, I overheard the following exchange:

Click click. "I want to watch this cartoon."

"No! I hate that one!" Click.

Then my oldest child intervened, remembering the rules of the deal: "You guys, we all have to agree. No fighting," she wisely counselled them. Then she added impatiently, "Now give me that remote control." Click.

I smiled as I exited the house. That's how it often goes with my kids, and sometimes that's okay. RHIP, Rank Has It's Privileges, my career-army grandpa used to say. It's not really fair, but in the army, or in a house full of young kids incapable of effectively reasoning through problems on their own, sometimes a pecking order can be useful to resolve conflicts and preserve the peace. In these situations, such a simplification of the rules just works.

That said, our marriage definitely won't work that way. For my wife and me, conflict resolution needs to occur with a spirit of mutual cooperation and sacrifice. Neither one of us holds rank to trump the other. We are both accountable to a Higher Power for the way we treat each other.

Perhaps there's some symbolism in the scriptural account of how Adam and Eve were created. After Adam was created, the scriptures say that God took one of his ribs and made Eve (see Genesis 2:21-22). Note that it wasn't part of Adam's head, making Eve superior to him. Neither was it part of Adam's heel, making Eve inferior to him. Eve was taken from Adam's side, next to his heart, in what I believe to be a symbolic gesture of the equality and partnership the first couple were to achieve.

So when my wife and I have a disagreement, we can't simply grab the remote control of the TV of Life out of the other's hands, and push all the buttons we want to. We need to compromise, compromise, compromise. Sometimes that means giving up the cartoons we want most, in favor of the movie we can both agree on. We need to talk it over, work it out, make it do, or do without.

And doing without sometimes is okay with me; the TV is on too much anyway. Who turned that thing on in the first place?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Wife Rule #47: Peace Will Come

I still remember the conversation we had.

It was about five years ago. My wife and I were talking about how incredibly blessed we felt in our lives. It seemed like every opportunity was open to us, that every aspect of our lives was proceeding according to our plans, even that every person we loved was doing well. In general, we felt that everything was, well, just perfect.

We both wondered aloud why we were so blessed, why it seemed that there had not been any major trials in our lives for several years. The idea that we didn't need any trials, to facilitate more personal growth, was so obviously foolish that we never even considered it. So then, was it that God knew we weren't strong enough to handle any trials? That didn't seem likely either. We knew so many of our good neighbors, just ordinary people like us, who seemed to have heaping portions of trials on their plates, much more than the Recommended Daily Allowance called for, and they were handling it. We were sure we could too.

This line of thought finally culminated in the question that had been simmering on the back burners of our minds for a while: How long will the peace last?

Well, needless to say, it wasn't long before the trials came. Big ones. Hairy ones. Nasty ones. Scary ones.

I should be careful not to be flippant about these trials. They have been major tests of our faith, our strength, and our resolve. They have stretched us in ways that we never could have imagined. They have brought us to tears frequently, and brought us to our knees in the most excruciating anguish we have experienced yet.

And to date, none of the direct causes of these trials were events involving my wife or me, or our children. The biggest share of these hardships was, and is still, borne by other members of our family: our parents and our siblings. I'm not talking about trials of their own choosing, either. These are not the consequences of carelessness, or foolishness, or rebelliousness. They are just the incredibly difficult things of life, which often seem to fall like anvils out of the blue.

These trials are still personal to us, but they are also trials of sympathy, of sitting helpless on the sidelines, watching people we love beyond description suffer in ways we that reach beyond our comprehension.

And so we worry, we lose sleep, and we drive ourselves crazy trying to figure out some way--any way--to help. But the harsh reality is, no matter how badly we want to, there's simply no way that we can bring someone back from the dead. There's no way that we can take away the suffering caused by brutal cancer treatments. There's nothing we can do to re-engineer genetic tendencies towards depression. And there's no way for us to heal deep emotional wounds caused by former abuses heaped upon the innocent heads of those we love.

When faced with this reality, it is sometimes tempting to despair at our helplessness--or our non-helpfulness, as the case may be. I'll admit that there were times, after exhausting what little ingenuity I have, that in frustration I have taken the easy way out and simply driven the thoughts of my suffering loved ones from my mind.

But far more often, my wife and I have been driven to our knees, our hearts poured out in prayer to that God who is our Parent and to Whom we belong. If we are frail, foolish, and feeble in our abilities, then He is Strength, Wisdom, and Power. If we don't know how to help, then surely He does. If we are too selfish to expend our last drop of focus on behalf of another, then He is ever-focused on us--all of us--and never on Himself.

Having been a parent now for eight and a half years, I understand a little about the love a father has for a child. There is no doubt in my mind that I would give my life for one of my children if that's what it took. And that's exactly what our Savior, the Father of our salvation, has done for us.

Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.... (Isaiah 53:4)

But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)

He has borne our griefs, and our sorrows, and we can be healed. We can be healed! Made whole. As if nothing had ever happened. As if everything was going according to our best plans. At peace. Perfect. Healed.

His grace extends to us, to heal every hurt, and fix every problem we have, though not always according to our preferred schedules:

And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness. (Malachi 3:3)

This scripture has been well-known to me for a long time; it's the text for one of the chorus numbers in Handel's Messiah, which I have sung numerous times. My understanding is that the sons of Levi can also represent the Lord's chosen people in our time and land, His sheep who follow Him today.

A refining fire is placed upon those who choose this discipleship. And for most of us, this fire most often takes the form of trials, whose purpose is to purge all weakness, all imperfection, and all impurity away, that we may offer up to the Lord the offering of our righteousness.

All this is essential to understand, but there is more to this verse than that. Until someone pointed it out to me, I had overlooked one very important word, a word that adds a new depth of meaning to this refining process: "sit." The Lord sits as a refiner and purifier of silver. One who refines silver sits and watches the refining process, so that at just the right moment, when the last particle of imperfection has been burned away, the cleansed product can be promptly removed from the fire. The one who sits and watches ensures that refining lasts only as long as is absolutely needed, and no longer.

He does this for us, personally. He does not delegate, though He invites us to watch with Him.

So when my wife and I are sitting on the sidelines, wishing that we could put out the fire, we can have faith in the One Who Sits. He watches this necessarily painful refining with perfect eyes, and will never allow the fire to consume more than is absolutely necessary. You see, He wants us to be perfect, like He is, and the pathway to perfection always passes through the refining fire. He knows. He went there before we did.

No matter how hot the fire gets, it is comforting to know that Someone is watching, ready to rescue and heal when His purposes have been accomplished. For some trials, this may not happen in this life, but we know the healing will eventually come. I know it's simplistic, but this simple faith really can make all the difference--my wife and I know this from experience now. With such faith casting present hurts into an eternal light, we really can have peace, even in the midst of trials.

How long will the peace last? my wife and I asked ourselves five years ago. Now we know the answer: As long as we have faith in Him.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wife Rule #46: Mother's Day Rules!

Late last night my wife remarked, "I love being a mother! I'm glad tomorrow is Mother's Day."

Hear, hear!

I love Mother's Day too. I am fully aware that there are many (perhaps even most) mothers out there who end up feeling guilty in one way or another on Mother's Day. If you are one of those mothers, or if you happen to love Mother's Day like my wife, then this Wife Rule is for you.

Let's establish some Mother's Day rules to make the day a little more pleasant for all of us. First rule: Mother's Day is for gratitude, not guilt. Say it with me, ladies: "GRA-TI-TUDE." Not guilt. Three syllables. Not one. Got that?

"But how can I feel gratitude," you ask, "when every other mother out there is perfect and I'm not? When they all cook like Rachel Ray and decorate like Martha Stewart and sing like Mary Poppins and nurture like Mother Theresa and sew like Betsy Ross and raise children like Abraham Lincoln, the Pope, and David Archuleta, and the only thing I have in common with any of them is that I sometimes feel like I'm doing hard time behind bars in this horrible, cramped, Camp Cupcake of a life that I live and WAAAAAAAAAAAAA!"

Quick, somebody call the waaaaaaaambulance. Stay with me. Breathe, breathe, easy, good. Gratitude, not guilt, remember? Let's all be grateful that Martha was eventually released. See, that feels better, doesn't it?

Okay now that we're done hyperventilating, let's move on to the second rule: Mother's Day ain't about you, sweetie. What? you respond in that tone of voice. You husbands out there know the tone I mean. The you-bought-me-a-table-saw-for-my-birthday-and-now-I'm-going-to-use-it-to-open-your-thick-skull-and-see-if-we-can't-find-some-common-sense-in-there-somewhere tone of voice. The tone of voice Miss Piggy always takes just before she karate chops another Muppet out of the scene.

But I'm serious about this rule; it's essential to get this. You see, Mother's Day is a Universally Applicable Holiday; that means that it's important to everyone. "How can that be when not every female out there is a mother?" you point out. "Much less, the more obvious problem that about half of everyone out there are males, and will never be mothers, due in part to the fact that they would never survive the pains of childbirth, yet they whimper and whine when they get a common head cold, the big babies?"

Those are good questions. But they're really irrelevant. Except for the one about us being babies. See, all of us were babies at one point, and that means that all of us have a mother. Get it now? While Mother's Day may very well be about you to the rest of us, for you, Mother's Day is to honor and remember your own mother.

In saying this, I'm not just trying to get out of buying my wife a present, either. What I'm trying to do is to get all of us in the proper frame of mind to enjoy the sermons at church today about great mothers, and for you mothers out there, to enjoy any recognition given to you by your own admirers. Because in remembering your own mother, you can begin to understand exactly why you deserve the praise too.

I'm sure that not every mother out there is perfect, and it follows that not everyone in the world is anxious to honor their mothers today. But if you have at least one ounce of gratitude for any aspect of your present condition of living in this world, perhaps you can see that without her, there wouldn't be any you. And getting you here wasn't any tiptoe through the tulips, either. Just ask her; she'll tell you all about it.

And that brings me to the third rule: motherhood is next to divinity. There isn't any higher, holier calling in life than to join with God in the creation of life. There is no more selfless act of love than to willingly walk through the valley of the shadow of death, literally laying your life on the line, for the sake of giving life to another. On Memorial Day and Veteran's Day we honor our war heroes, those who risked everything for our freedom. On Mother's Day we honor the unsung heroes we each have, who quite literally put themselves in just as much danger, just as much pain, and gave just as much a sacrifice, as those who fight for our lives on foreign soil. Our mothers own the home front.

Thankfully, like our veterans, most of our mothers survived childbirth. But for those who did, the sacrifice of life has just begun. Their sacrifice is an ongoing battle, constantly pitting their own comforts and desires against the tender cords of love that pull them out of selfishness and bind them to their children. Several years ago, my wife's mother got a startling glimpse into the sheer scope of these maternal bonds when her mother-in-law, over seventy years of age and somewhat crippled with the effects of diabetes, announced that despite the considerable pain involved, she was determined to get up and get to the local ball court, because "my boy has a basketball game, and I'm going to watch." Never mind that her boy was over 50 years old.

Yes, our mothers offer their very lives, imperfect as this offering usually is, for us.

It is so similar to the offering made by the Son of God, in so many ways. The life-giving blood that nourishes and protects an unborn child against disease reminds us of His atoning blood's power to spiritually nourish and heal. This blood binds the mother and child together as one, just as the blood of His covenant binds us to Him. The sanctuary of water that houses the unborn child reminds us of the waters of baptism, both a tomb and a womb we enter into, in order let our sinful life end and come alive again spiritually. The act of birth, so intense with pain, reminds us in some small way of He who trembled because of pain and whose sweat was as "great drops of blood falling down to the ground" (Luke 22:44) as he prayed for us in Gethsemane and bled for us at Golgotha.

Considering all that mothers do, is it any wonder that He has used the imagery of motherhood so many times to teach us of the tender, patient, loving attitude he has towards us, His children?

So today, on Mother's Day, I hope you'll join with me in honoring the mothers in our lives. Let's stick to the rules. My wife always does, and she loves Mother's Day. If you're tempted to cheat, just remember what Mom always says: If you can't play by the rules, then there's too many cooks in the kitchen, or something like that. Well, you know what Mom always says anyway. Today, it's your job to remember her.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Wife Rule #45: You Can't Argue With The Truth

My wife has a certain talent for making powerful logical arguments. They are irrefutable because they are The Truth, and The Truth is even strong enough to confound a four-year-old's logic. As an illustration of this ability, I recently heard the tail end (ha ha) of the following exchange:

Scott (calling from the bathroom): "Mom, will you [muffled request blah blah blah]?"

My Wife: "No."

Scott: "But Mom, I don't want to!"

My Wife: "But it's your bum."

Scott: [silence, as The Truth seeps slowly in]

So Scott is learning the inconvenient reality that I learned early on in our marriage: my wife always speaks The Truth. And when faced with The Truth, there's just not much you can say back.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Wife Rule #44: She's Perfect for a Cheesy Guy Like Me

I have a recurring nightmare.

In this dream, I awake in the middle of the night. For some reason, I'm not tired at all--I feel hungry. It's also unusually cold, so I pause for a minute and clutch our soft, heavy comforter up around my neck. Something is wrong, something is out of place. I try to shake the uneasy feeling. As I get out of bed to begin my trek to the refrigerator, I slip my feet into the velvet slippers I keep at my bedside, but instead of the usual warmth, they too feel cold, as if they had been sitting on blocks of ice.

Trying not to wake my wife, I stumble through the darkness until I grasp the bedroom doorknob. It too feels like ice, and my hand recoils momentarily. My stomach rumbles. Mustering my determination, I grasp the handle firmly and twist. But this time, the normal quarter-turn doesn't do it. I just keep twisting and twisting, hoping to meet the resistance that lets me know that the latch is free. It never comes, and I realize that my hand is frozen to the handle, which now seems to be turning of its own accord. I watch in horror as my arm continues to twist around like a braided rope, doubling back on itself, twisting and knotting up tighter and tighter. My mind is frantic. Why can't I stop turning the handle? Why won't the door come free? When will it stop?

And then, all of a sudden, I realize that I'm not in my bedroom at all: I'm already inside the refrigerator. And my arm is no longer an arm, it's a huge green twist-tie, and the doorknob has turned into what would be the open end of a giant plastic bag, were it not tied up. The writhing twist-tie coils at an accelerated pace, ever tighter, like an angry snake. Suddenly it glows red-hot and then bursts into flame, and the giant plastic bag pops open with a deafening explosion, revealing what's inside, and then


The scream in my head wakes me up. I'm not sure whether I cried out aloud or not. I am sitting bolt upright in bed, my forehead beaded with sweat and my hands trembling. I check my arms. Yup, both there. I look over at my wife. She stirs a bit, but apparently I didn't make enough of a disturbance to wake her completely.

I roll out of bed, slide into my slippers, and make my way to the door. It opens easily this time, and I step out into the hallway, which is dimly lit by our porch lights. Their eerie luminescence streams through the abstract glass designs in the front door windows, casting ghastly patterns on the wall at the end of the hall. It does feel a little uncharacteristically cool. Shuddering, I avert my eyes from the strange spectres and quickly make my way into the kitchen, grasp the refrigerator handle firmly, and open the fridge. And then I see it--my worst fear, the realization of my nightmares:

There's no cheese.

All that's left is an empty plastic bag with a loose green twist-tie. My mind panics: Great, just great. No 3 A.M. nachos. Now what am I going to do? Just throw me to the wolves.

Okay, a little honesty is in order here. I'll admit that I've never had a cheese nightmare like the one I described above, and actually, I've never even attempted to make nachos at 3 A.M. I usually sleep like a brick. A luscious, mellow, faded-yellow brick of mild cheddar....

But the important fact remains that if we ever did run out of cheese, this hypothetical situation could happen, which could trigger a series of unpleasant nightmares like the one I described above.

I just can't afford to take that risk.

For this reason, I have opened up to my loving wife and a few close friends about my CHEese Deficiency Anxiety disordeR, or CHEDAR (okay, I'll admit it's a bit of a stretch, but give me a little credit; trying to come up with an acronym for MOZZARELLA would have been downright ridiculous).

Because this is undoubtedly a wide-spread affliction, one which tragically goes almost completely undiagnosed, I am now going public. I'll take up the cause and be the self-proclaimed spokesman for CHEDAR.

The first step to coping with CHEDAR is to accept your condition, without shame. When perfection is in your grasp, it's hard not to fear losing it. Cheese is the virtuoso food of versatility. It melts on patties; it coats in a fondue pot; it pleases as an appetiser; it shreds in salads, side dishes, and main courses from nearly every culture in the world. It's a snack food; a breakfast food; a lunch and dinner food; it's an I'm-not-hungry-but-you-look-so-yummy-I'll-eat-you-anyway food.

Besides being delicious and colorful, cheese is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent, plus, as a bonus, it solves world hunger (find me a Boy Scout that's done that! Ha!). And perhaps most noble of all, cheese never hesitates to serve its Highest Purpose, as the single, most-spectacularest, yummiest ingredient on pizza.

Thus, you can see that it's completely rational to experience a high degree of anxiety at the prospect of running out of cheese. This is why the President of the United States--most likely a closet CHEDAR sufferer; why else would the men in black suits and sunglasses refer to him as "The Big Cheese?"--anyway, as I was saying, the President recently ordered a 50% increase in the storage capacity of the Strategic National Cheese Reserves. It may drive up prices a little, but it's a small price to pay for peace of mind. And using similar logic, the last time I visited a grocery store, I came home with twenty half-pound bricks of cheese. I'm not kidding. It was the size that was on sale. So sue me.

Such an obsession with cheese, while completely natural, could become an unhealthy, unbalancing force in one's life if not kept in check. This is why I recommend a solid support system of family and close friends--it might help to think of them as the necessary curds in your whey. I mentioned that I have told a few friends about my CHEDAR. For this reason, a couple of them who recently brought by meals for us after our newest baby was born, were thoughtful enough to include bricks of cheese with the meal (really). If only every CHEDAR sufferer could feel so loved and supported!

It goes without saying that the hub of my cheese-wheel of strength is my wife. Not suffering from CHEDAR herself, she doesn't really understand my anxiety about stocking our fridge with cheese, but she cheerfully puts up with it. Don't worry about her sanity, though: if you think this Wife Rule is getting pretty weird, then my wife surely agrees with you. But that's one of the great things about her; she accepts me, weirdness, worries, warts, and all. When something is as important to me as cheese is, she doesn't question it; she just puts her loving arms around me and gives me a squeeze and her full, if not wildly enthusiastic, support.

She's just the type of wife a cheesy guy like me needs.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Wife Rule #43: A Perfect Ten (Part Three)

My grandfather was a career chaplain in the US Army during World War II, and spent twenty years or so ministering at the local VA hospital afterwards. He gave literally thousands of sermons. A few years before he died, he recorded a handful of them--those he considered most precious, I'm sure--onto cassette tapes so that his posterity might have a few of his words. I am in possession of these precious words now, and a story from one of his sermons comes to my mind on this, our tenth anniversary.

It went something like this: An old man was sitting one evening with his wife of 50+ years, holding her hand. He softly asked her, "What do you think we will be doing a million years from tonight?"

"Come now, LeGrande, who in the world knows that?" she responded.

"No, seriously, what do you think the two of us will be doing together, a million years from now? Because just as surely as tomorrow morning will come, so will a year from now, and a hundred years from now, and a million years from now."

Now honey, I know you usually don't like to spend time pondering about things that we both know are impossible to wrap our minds around; but after ten years together, this isn't so mind-boggling, is it? I mean, we have a pretty good idea of what life is like together.

So indulge me.

Where will we be living a million years from now? If we hold faithful to what we both know to be true, then we will be living here, on this very earth, with the Savior of Mankind. He will have finished His redeeming work, and this earth will no longer be inhabited by the ungodly. Maybe we'll finally have that mansion that I could never promise I'd get you in our present life. If we do, we won't care; possessions will be irrelevant when we are joint-heirs with Him, sharing fully the infinite resources of this universe.

What will it be like to be alive a million years from now? Our resurrected bodies will be perfected, free from sickness, weakness, and that extra weight we pack around presently. I for one can't wait to never be drowsy again. Not being required to sleep or eat will not only remove so much of our mortal discomforts, but think of all the extra time we'll have together, for talking, for walking, for working!

Maybe when pain and discomfort are gone, with our endless stamina, we can do some of those extreme hikes into remote wilderness, which I love so much, but that are too much bother for now. Think of it, we could go camping every night....

Of course, we'll be sure to do lots of stuff that you love, too. I'm pretty sure that time and space will be rather irrelevant, so we will be free to take a stroll along the beach together whenever you say the word. Will the crisp, salty, evening air still smell so strong? Will the sea foam and wet sand at dusk still feel cold on eternal toes? We'll find out, together.

And with boundless locomotive abilities, we can chase sunrises and sunsets all day long if we want. We can look forward to an unlimited fill of sun-saturated, golden light, suitable for snapping a million mental pictures. We won't need cameras with our perfect minds, of course.

Or, we might just decide to enjoy the comforts of home. We have already experienced the joys of our first five children. Think of the happy commotion when we've had a million years to grow our family! Children and grandchildren, and great-great-great-[insert large number of greats here]-great-grandchildren will come to visit, and there will be room for all. Even though we won't have to eat, I'm sure we can still serve them all milk and cookies, and kick back on fine cushions on our super-sized porch and tell them stories of the ancient days, back in 2008 Mortal Time, when we had only been together for ten years--ten perfect, wonderful years.

With wistful tears in our eyes, we'll recall how very little we knew way back then about just how perfect our life together would ever become; how every hope and dream we dared to have, and even more we didn't dare to have, had been fulfilled and excelled to a nearly infinite degree. It will boggle our minds to think of how simple life was then, and how much more we have to be thankful for now.

So let's begin our next million years together right now, today, with a promise that we'll never forget what we may someday become, should we choose such a life together--indeed, what we already are, even if only in an embryonic stage, if we'll recognize it now: an Eternal Family.

I can hardly wait to get started.

Wife Rule #42: A Perfect Ten (Part Two)

I still remember the first time I saw you. You stood up, about five rows in front of me in the giant auditorium that housed our 700-plus-member freshman Biology class.

You wore a muted floral print on your skirt and a plain blouse, and your hair was permed into gorgeous golden curls. With the lights back on at the end of the lecture, you looked briefly around the room in preparation to leave for your next class, providing me with stunning profile shots to memorize. My heart stuttered briefly when your gaze passed unnoticingly over the spot where I was sitting. You were completely oblivious to the fact that your image, a blueprint for beauty, had just been burned indelibly into the memory of a shy engineer who would take months to muster the courage to ask you out.

Shortly after that, I distinctly remember doing something rare: telling my older brother (and roommate) about a beautiful girl I had seen in one of my classes. It's kind of funny; I didn't have much to tell. I didn't know your name. I didn't know where you were from. I hadn't yet even spoken to you. But somehow, you made an impression, and I couldn't help but share.

Months later, after you and I had been dating steadily for a while, my brother was lamenting one night. "Dating life stinks," he moaned, obviously indicating that he was weary of searching for Miss Right.

"I know," I replied, both feeling empathetic, and also expressing that I was tired of dating, and was ready to move our relationship to a more permanent level.

"What could you possibly have to complain about?" he responded. "You've got a gorgeous blonde. You're so lucky."

Boy was he right.

But not just because you are a gorgeous blonde. There are millions of attractive women out there in the world of every color (my brother eventually went head-over-heels for his own brunette Miss Right). But you still stand out in a crowd. There is something extra there, a sort of goodness and light that radiates from your very person, which is far rarer than just a pretty face.

The scriptures have a word for this: countenance.

The manifestation of countenance is somewhat of a paradox. It's something physical, which you can clearly see with your eyes; yet, it's such a subtle quality that it can only be fully discerned if you are looking for it. Countenance reveals a lot about what is going on inside a person, the light or darkness within; it's a kind of visible reflection of the state of the soul. And your countenance, on the day I first saw you and every day since, literally shines with light.

By the time we were married, I was starting to appreciate the sublime quality of your countenance. I wrote you a song about it and sang it on our wedding day, remember?

When I look into your eyes
And when I think about your smile
I know I love you

You know you're always on my mind
And I can feel all the time
How much I need you

But when I think of who you really are deep down inside
And when I look at what you've done to me I realize

That it's Beautiful
To have you in my life
You're Beautiful
And Heaven's in your eyes
So Beautiful
I'll never be the same

When I first beheld your face
I was taken by the grace
I saw surrounding you

But still I didn't really know
Why I longed within my soul
To be around you

Now I know it's so much more than smiles and pretty eyes
It's the beauty of your soul that makes me cry

And I know you're Beautiful
You're where I want to be
So Beautiful
And now I clearly see
How Beautiful
I'll never be the same

And I know that you're not perfect
But you're the perfect one for me
And I will give my heart forever
'Cause what you've given me

Is so Beautiful
I'll love you all my life
You're Wonderful
I'll keep you pure and bright
And Beautiful
I'll never, ever change

After ten years of marriage, we're both a little older now. Our years are catching up with us, just a bit. Our hair is developing a silver lining. We no longer fit into some of the clothes we did when we were first dating. But the supreme quality of your beauty has not diminshed one bit; it has only grown with every passing hour of every passing day. Your beauty is in your countenance, and your life has been such that it grows consistently brighter. That beauty is something you will take with you to the grave and beyond, into the eternities ahead, growing brighter and brighter until the perfect day.

Today, when I look into your eyes, you're beautiful to me, a perfect ten; and that will never, ever change.

Wife Rule #41: A Perfect Ten (Part One)

As of about 11:00 AM today, it's been ten years since we were married--ten, wonderful, magical years.

More accurately, it's been ten years of really hard work, starting with never-ending, bleary-eyed studying; always accompanied by annoying alarm clocks; putting up with too-frequent separations; and since adding kids to the mix, an endless stream of runny noses and definitely more dirty diapers than we could ever have thought possible. It's been ten years of all this, with magical moments thrown in as sort of a garnish.

Not to say it hasn't been wonderful. With every mundane minute spent in tasks we'd rather not do, and with every challenge we wouldn't choose, there is a corresponding reward of sorts--even if the immediate reward is no more than the satisfaction of removing one more obstacle towards achieving our much-anticipated, though short-lived moments of peace.

We both know that the elapsed time of the restful respites is usually very small compared to the quantity of time we spend working towards them, but that only serves to make them sweeter.

Remember our Hawaii trip? It was eight years after we first willingly gave up our unfettered freedom for the promises of parenthood. With the addition of each child, and the complications to our family schedule that invariable follow as they grow, it seemed that the complexity of life was multiplying exponentially, while time and financial resources certainly weren't. But with a little (okay, a lot) of help, we made it, and it was wonderful.

Remember the difference we noticed when we first committed ourselves to weekly dates? Making the change took dedication, planning, and babysitting costs that would have made us shudder if they had been part of our newlywed budget. But the rewards are tangible. We always know that no matter how busy the week is, no matter how many evenings we spend apart, or together but just scraping by, we have the golden promise of Friday night freedom to sustain us. With a little extra exertion and help, most weeks we make it, and it has been wonderful.

And on a more frequent scale, remember that each evening if we can just get the dinner eaten, dishes done, family scriptures read, family prayers said, bodies bathed, teeth brushed, bed-time stories read, and tucking-in done, that there is that magic moment after the last goodnight kiss has been given and the last stalling tactic has been thwarted, when there is the promise of a wide-open night ahead of us--albeit usually only an hour or so before exhaustion overtakes us too. Somehow or other, every night we make it, and the relief is wonderful.

But after ten years of marriage, we have come to realize something about the times alone, whether in Hawaii, on our weekly dates, or our precious daily late-evening hour: although they approximate what our carefree life was like as newlyweds, and although they are important, neccessary, and wonderful, they are no longer what is most precious to us.

The brave pioneers that tamed so much of this country had very tough choices to make when they left their homes and comforts behind. Not much can be packed into a covered wagon or a handcart, so only those things which are necessary and most precious made it to their new homes. Anything else was eventually recognized as nothing more than extra weight, and discarded along the way.

Like them, so much of what used to be important to us has fallen by the wayside, in favor of emphasizing that which is most important. The refining passage of time has worked its miracle and changed not only our habits and routines, but our very passions and identities. I am no longer the Engineer, Artist, Writer, or Singer; I am a Husband and a Father, who happens to enjoy my work, my art, writing, and singing. You are no longer the Nurse, the Dancer, the Gardener, or the Student of Fine Literature; you are a Wife and Mother who happens to enjoy nursing, dancing, gardening, and reading.

The semantic differences may seem subtle, but they are so essential.

Our occasional longing for the simple life we once knew is satisfied by our occasional bouts of carefree time alone. But the strongest magic in our marriage that will guarantee a lifetime of enjoyment is that we have learned to love--passionately--our life together, exactly as it is, dirty diapers and all. Though the challenges come at us from every angle, and often in simultaneous doses, we no longer live for Friday night, or even our alone time tonight; we have learned to live in the present, to relish in the fullness that is available to us now, whenever now is. Daily life in our happy, busy, bustling family is truly wonderful.

I have no doubt that as our life together continues to change, we will continue to evolve with it. I can't wait to see where we end up in another ten years; I'd say these first have been a perfect ten.