Sunday, September 28, 2008

Wife Rule #75: If You Ever Go Camping, and There's an Aggressive Bull Moose Prowling Around, Don't Tell the Kids

I just wasn't sure what other lesson I could glean from this experience.

When I was a young boy, I brought home a small stuffed moose as a souvenir from a family trip to Yellowstone National Park. "Moosie" became one of my best friends and my favorite sleeping companion at night. His soft, smooth fur and felt antlers were comforting to hold and feel.

Moosie was the envy of my younger sisters, who were always expressing their true devotion for, and desire to have and to hold this little gem of brown, plush, bead-filled goodness. But since he belonged to me, I kept a rather tight reign on him. And we had such good times together! Moosie and I would cuddle together in the bottom bunk of the bed I shared with my older brother. We lived out the classic Disney-like dream of a little boy and the furry animal who loved him.

Then came the night of my brother's illness, when all that changed. Moosie had become dislodged from my protective arms in my sleep, and was now wedged between my mattress and the wall. My brother, feeling very sick to his stomach and yet not wanting to disturb his repose in the top bunk, shrewdly chose an alternative to getting out of bed and puking in the toilet: he merely rolled over and puked down the wall. The mess drizzled out of his sight into my environment below, completely coating poor Moosie on its way to the floor.

Mom and Dad had little sympathy for Big Brother that night; as I recall, they made him clean it up himself, middle of the night, sick, and all.

But poor Moosie would never be the same. After several trips through the wash, he looked matted and was showing signs of premature threadbareness. Alas, I admit that in my immature youthful mind, much of Moosie's appeal was, in fact, skin-deep. Moosie went on the fast track to become a hand-me-down, and my sisters were somewhat pleased to suddenly have access to this coveted toy. But given his condition, they rather quickly lost interest.

So it was with mixed emotion that I accepted Moosie back into my family earlier this year, after my mom found him in a dusty old box. With proper gravity and ceremony, I bequeathed him upon Scott, age five, figuring that such a pure, innocent child had as much chance as anyone of giving Moosie the love he surely deserved at such an advanced stage in his pathetic, plush-toy life.

And Scott did, indeed, love him.

But then came the camping trip. My wife, in a nearly unprecedented stroke of most-welcome madness, was the one who brought the idea up. A simple over-nighter, up the canyon by our house. Food + family + pit toilets = guaranteed fun. A great idea. A brilliant idea. But an idea with a catch.

After we got to our camp site and set up the tent trailer, a kindly old gentleman (translation: someone who has not been primarily responsible for the care of small children for too long a time to be very wise about them) from the camp site across the road ambled over and covertly told my wife and me that an aggressive bull moose was prowling around in the shadows. This moose was not fifty feet from where we now stood, and he told us that since he had heard our kids, he thought we had better let them know to be careful, because this moose apparently had insatiable blood lust and no-doubt glowing red eyes, and had in fact attacked campground visitors twice this season.

And being parents of young children (translation: someone who has not been primarily responsible for the care of small children long enough to be very wise about them), my wife and I, feeling for the safety of our little brood, followed the guy's advice and told our kids about the Child-Eating Vampire Moose from You-Know-Where. Or at least that's what they heard, because it took approximately five seconds after spilling the beans for Rachel and Scott and Andrew's eyes to grow as wide as the full moon and for them to shrink back fearfully and start a routine of nervously glancing from side to side and over their shoulders and whimpering about the ever-deepening darkness. Every few seconds, for good measure, they would shudder.

Dawn, of course, being the oldest, wisest, and most fearless of our children, deftly seized the opportunity to torment her subordinate siblings relentlessly.

"WHAT WAS THAT?" Dawn would suddenly cry, "A MOOOOOOOOSE!"

And the other three kids would fret and whimper and glance around, and Mom and Dad would make idle threats about what would happen if Dawn didn't stop it right now, because what could we really do to at this point? Make Dawn walk home? Not a chance, with a Vampire Moose on the loose.

So we spent the hours as dusk fell into blackness trying to reassure and comfort our cowering, shuddering children about The Moose. Poor Scott seemed most affected by it all. A log would crackle in the fire, and he would jump in his seat and ask with quivering lips, "Was that The M-M-Moose?"

So we tried singing campfire songs. Our favorite ones can be sung in a round, so we started with "I love the mountains, I love the rolling hills..."

"But The Moose lives in the mountains," Scott complained. So we switched to "Hey, Ho, Anybody Home," and enjoyed singing a good round and then moved on to "Have You Seen the Ghost of John," since Halloween is just around the corner.

Poor Scott, nearly in tears after a few rounds of this song, cried, "I don't like all this singing about the Ghost of John. It reminds me of The Moose!"

I couldn't quite make the connection, but we stopped that song, anyway. Appetites for S'mores were uncharacteristically small that night, and we retired to the trailer for bed, where thankfully, we didn't hear any stray noises and didn't have any bad dreams about The Moose.

Morning dawned crisp and clear with outrageously pinkish-orangish light showering the peak of Mount Timpooneke, the backdrop of all the fun, above groves of golden autumn aspen trees. I got the kids up and took them on a little walk to take some pictures of the spectacle.

They huddled together on the way, and at first I guessed it was because of the chilly morning air, but of course found out quickly that it was because of The Moose.

We paused for pictures at a verdant meadow that extended to the base of the mountain, complete with a pleasant, trickling stream. My kids asked if The Moose lived here. I was intentionally vague in my mumbling "maybe" reply, since in fact I thought it was extremely probable that The Moose made this pleasant spot home base, between bouts of terrorizing and eating innocent children.

Later that morning, the kids wanted to explore along some scanty animal trails in the brush by our campsite. They would scrupulously avoid any trail that led into a dark patch of pine trees, for fear of The Moose.

At one point, we came across a pile of poop. My kids asked me about it.

Hmmm. Clearly not deer.

I don't think there are elk here, at least not frequently.

What non-deer, non-elk animal would make a trail like this and leave poop like this?

The Moose.

So I reluctantly answered their question, and that pretty much set in motion the end of our last activity before packing up and going home.

Well, we survived our camp-out without so much as a sight or sound of The Moose, much less any actual loss of life or limb. What did my wife and I learn from this, aside from the obvious lesson of avoiding any kindly old gentleman that ambles our way?

Well, we learned the lesson in the title of this Wife Rule. And we learned a new punishment for bad behavior: we'll make the kids eat Moose Tracks ice cream.

And speaking of tracks, I think I learned that my childhood Moosie is probably on the fast track--again--to be disowned, this time by Scott. Poor Moosie just can't seem to get a break.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Wife Rule #74: We're Up to Our Eyeballs in Paper, in Love

The papers! The papers! We're drowning in papers!
They come from our drawers, our cutters, our tapers.
With munchkin-esque skill they artistically putter
on projects designed to set our hearts aflutter.

And it all starts with paper, that canvas divine,
so perfect and blank, it just begs for design.
Will they color, or cut, or glue into a chain?
Will they make yet another World's Best Paper Plane?
Or another self-portrait? Life-sized to be sure.
(We have one of those, lovingly stuck to our door.)

Or a seasonal something: a fallen-leaf tree?
A springtimey flower? A summer-fun sea?
A winteryscape, filled with snowflakey skies?
Or a spooky web brimming with doomed, dried-up flies?
These each find their place in our seasonal space,
taped up to a window, or stuck in a vase.

They sometimes pay homage to parents' obsessions:
like my wife's constant need to find beachy expressions,
or my love of orange arches carved out of the rocks,
sometimes glued to relief shapes carved out of a box.

But most often, creations are thoughts of their own,
favorite kid-friendly subjects they commonly clone:
Like kitties, or doggies, or birdies, or froggies.
Or mutated dinosaurs swimming in boggies.
Or a fair-headed maiden: a princess with wings
and a magical wand and who magically sings.

The pure stuff of childhood--these thoughts that they think
Are put down on paper: white, blue, green, or pink.
Sometimes it's scratch paper, sometimes construction,
or they draw down our printer supply. Each production
may take multiple sheets; especially when forming
a life-sized rendition, or 3-D transforming
of picture to sculpture, as often they do:
A house or a stage, or a big wooden shoe,
Or whatever they dream; their most memorable thought
that is making the case: "I ought to be wrought!"

And they're all fine ideas, crying out to be given
expression on paper; defined, formed, and livin'.
Yes, living to infamy, ne'ermore now to die,
for the parents of artists just can't say goodbye
to these cute, crooked drawings, these colors that spill
way out of their lines, these cutouts that thrill
with ridiculous portions of tape holding on
to ridiculous portions of paper, all drawn.

And perhaps the very most hardest of all
Are the love notes, written in children's best scrawl:
an "I love you," or "World's Bestest Dad," they might say,
or "Mommy, I'm sorry I spilled juice today."
Or "A present for someone so special," sent with
a random assortment of objects and gifts,
often blatantly surplus supplies to discard,
but still tokens of love--and that love makes it hard!

So we keep them, we hang them, we tack them on walls,
we crowd them, display them on doors and in halls,
we pile them on desks and we file them in drawers,
we put them in boxes and bags and on floors.

And we're flooded with papers! With precious reminders
of fast-fleeting, youthful, adorable blinders
they wear now for only a few precious years,
while they look to their parents to calm all their fears,
While they still think we know something more than they do,
While they still think we're fun, fast, and fabulous, too.

Yes, we're up to our eyeballs in papers, in love,
in notes and in drawings of stuff they think of,
in hearts and in flowers, in sunshine and spring,
And it's just how we'd have it: we won't change a thing.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Wife Rule #73: Have No Fear, Captain Culture is Here!

That last Wife Rule was rather heavy, so I thought I would lighten up a bit by mentioning that with two little boys in the house, the subject of superheroes comes up often.

Especially so since I have introduced my children to the wonders of "classic" Sesame Street clips on youtube. Not the watered-down sissy stuff they put on the air today--you know, the stuff that's actually geared towards kids of all people--but the good old stuff.

Stuff such as Captain Vegetable, the giant purple rabbit with a cape, flaming orange hair, long ears, buck teeth, and horrible white whiskers that look like badly curled pipe cleaners, which they probably are.

Narrator: "Out of his secret garden somewhere in New Jersey, comes your new favorite superhero...."

Captain Vegetable (singing rather badly, like Neil Diamond, but with better timbre): "It is I, Captain Vegetable, with my car-ROT, and my cel-ery. Eating crunchy vegetables is good for me. And they're good for you, so eat them too. For teeth so strong your whole life long, eat celery and carrots by the bunch. Three cheers for me, Captain Vegetable, CRUNCH! CRUNCH! CRUNCH!"

Then of course we meet Andy who loves candy (Andy: "Wh-who are you, some kind of a bad dream?" Captain Vegetable: "Do I look like a bad dream? Andy: pregnant pause). We also meet Eddie who loves spaghetti (Eddie: "What are you, some kind of weirdo?" Captain Vegetable: "Do I look like a weirdo?" Eddie: nods vigorously).

With a wave of his magic carrot, somehow Captain Vegetable converts Andy and Eddie over to veggies. As a father of five, let me tell you that it truly would take superpowers to do that to a kid. If I magically replaced a big bowl of candy in front of my kids with a plate stacked with celery, my kids would attack me and the skit would have ended with my violent demise occurring just off screen. Not Captain Vegetable; the kids follow him like the Pied Piper. I guess that's why he gets to wear the cape.

For tragic reasons we may never fully get to the bottom of, Captain Vegetable only appeared on Sesame Street for that one skit. Maybe his agent never worked out an acceptable deal with the writers. Probably some sort of conflict with union rules or something.

But the important point is, I am trying to inject as much Fine Culture, such as Sesame Street skits (Monsterpiece Theater, anyone?), into my family as possible. That's me, Captain Culture, my family's new favorite superhero (Tag Line: "Remember to always eat your yogurt, kids!" Get it? A culture joke! Ha ha ha!).

So today Captain Culture and his trusty wife concocted a brilliant plan for the evening: to see the "Monet to Picasso" travelling art exhibit at one of our local university museums. My normal Wednesday night meetings were cancelled, and Wednesday happens to be the only day of the week the museum is open past 6:00 PM (I agree, totally lame-o). We had it all planned: I was home from work early, and my parents would watch the kids (we didn't want to worry about them wiping any bodily fluids on a Monet, after all--a Jackson Pollock, maybe, but definitely not a Monet). Unfortunately, we didn't realize until we had literally loaded the kids into the minivan, that the tickets to this show were pre-sold for certain time slots and today's shows were all sold out.

Thus, we had a good half-hour session of feeling very sorry for our sorry, sad selves, and then tried to come up with an alternate plan for the evening that didn't involve house cleaning or paperwork. My wife realized she didn't feel well anyway, and was just as happy to stay at home and rest. And luckily, Captain Culture's keen consciousness concocted another plan absolutely oozing with copious culture: take the kids to the dollar movie at the Sticky Shoe. At least that's what we locals call it. Rumor has it that the owners were actually considering officially changing the name of the theater to "The Sticky Shoe," but thought better of it and ended up with the totally benign and boring "Towne Cinema" instead. No vision at all. Kind of like if Malt-O-Meal had named "Marshmallow Mateys" something like "Oat and Starch Puffed Cereal." Their loss.

But regardless of the theater's name, as I mentioned, the Sticky Shoe oozes with culture, and that's just what's on the floor. The featured movie tonight was "Kung Fu Panda," which amazingly was not sold out. And it goes without saying that Jack Black and Jackie Chan make an equitable cultural substitute for Monet and Picasso.

Dead, artsy guys are usually overrated anyway.

So my wife got to rest, and the kids ended up loving the movie, and were spewing forth culturally-enriched Kung-Fu sound effects during the entire ride home. And two-year-old Andrew literally glowed with bashful appreciation when I dubbed him "Kung-Poo Andrew" while changing his diaper before bed. Imagine, he would have missed out on this important cultural experience had our original museum plans worked out.

So as you knew it would happen, Captain Culture prevailed once again, making the best of what might have been a culturally-anemic night. Now I'm going to settle down for bed, as soon as I have a little snack.

I think a big plate of celery sounds just right. Or maybe some yogurt.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Wife Rule #72: It All Comes Back to Prayer

Almost a year after my father-in-law passed away, I began mentally gearing up for the anniversary of his car accident and death. There had been several very difficult months for my wife initially following his death, but in the last few months, things had begun to smooth over and return more to normal. I wasn't sure what emotions the anniversary would invoke, but I wanted to be prepared to offer extra support and strength again.

Thus, it kind of blindsided me when during this time, my own mom called to inform me that my dad, always health-conscious and ever healthy, had just been diagnosed with a rare, serious form of cancer. Cancer? It wasn't all that uncommon, but still, cancer was something that happened to other people. Kind of like car accidents used to be.

Dad's outlook wasn't rosy. There wasn't a very large body of research about his particular kind of cancer, because it is very rare, but the few statistics we had weren't encouraging. Many patients died within a year, and few survived five years after diagnosis.

So, after visiting Dad in the hospital and learning all we could and crying a little with my parents and siblings, my wife and I did the only other thing we could do in such a helpless situation: we prayed.

We prayed for the whole family, but especially for Dad. We honestly didn't expect an immediate recovery, since even miracles usually take some time and involve some learning for those involved. But we prayed for Dad to be strong, to be courageous, and to be given patience and faith and endurance to face the brutal treatments ahead: surgery on his heart, lungs, and other vital organs; followed by two months of chemotherapy; and then a few months of heavy radiation.

And yes, we prayed for a miracle. We prayed for healing to take place in the Lord's time and in the Lord's way, so long as it did eventually come. We prayed that we would all have patience while we waited for the hoped-for healing to happen.

But always, in the back of my mind during every earnest prayer, were freshly-minted life experiences--experiences which had taught us that there are times when the outcome of a problem simply doesn't match up to our wishes and desires and prayers, no matter how sincere or strongly-wanted. We had lost my wife's father, and no matter how much I couldn't bear to think of it, I knew that we might also lose mine.

The next weeks and months were a whirlwind of treatments and updates. The treatments went well; my father's health-consciousness payed off as his body withstood the disease and responded to treatments better than most. Yet, there were still those grim statistics, and there was the suffering.

The suffering! Oh the suffering! My father-in-law was in a coma and on heavy medication from the time of his accident until his passing nearly two weeks later, so we never really knew the extent of any suffering he endured. But my father, my Daddy, was conscious and alert during his cancer treatments, and subjected to all the physical, mental and emotional torture associated with embracing Pain in order to stare down Death.

After having endured radically invasive surgery that involved sawing his chest in two, he was now being poisoned to the very edge of death, all in the hopes that his healthy tissue would simply outlast the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy is a terrible, slow-motion game of chicken where life--however crippled and diminished--is the prize, and certain death awaits the loser.

So it was that when I would receive reports of my Dad's times of intense suffering, my prayers would exponentially increase in earnestness.

Oh, dear Father in Heaven, the Almighty God who commands both life and element, I plead for my father. I can't help him. I don't know how. I don't know thy will. I don't know thy plan. I don't even know what suffering Dad will yet be called to pass through, nor what the outcome will be. But please, please, give him strength and courage. I know that Thou wilt not always heal our bodies according to our wills, and I accept that. But my dad is a good man. He has faith in Thee. Please honor that faith and heal his spirit. I can have faith in this request. Please calm his soul. Please ease his suffering. Please.

My wife would watch with a tender look of compassion and concern as I emerged from such pleading with wet eyes and a trembling frame.

"I'm so sorry you are having to go through this," she said to me late one night as I collapsed into bed beside her. "I know how you feel. I have felt it before. I just never realized how much more it hurts when it's your own father. I'm sorry I can't feel quite as strongly about this as you do now. I'm sorry."

She meant it. And I knew how she felt. In months past, I had watched helplessly as she cried herself to sleep, mourning her father's passing and worrying about her mother's future. I wished so badly at that time that there was something I could say or do that would lessen her suffering.

Even in what should be the closest of human relationships, the union of husband and wife, there is ultimately a falling-short of ability to fully empathise and thus offer perfect help. My wife and I have learned this for ourselves, through independent experience, and we are all the more grateful now that we are not alone in our union.

Our marriage is a three-way arrangement--a triangle--with my wife and I connected as peers at the base and the God of Heaven connected to each of us above, our superior in every way. Our bonds of love can only grow closer and stronger and the distance between us shrink, as we shorten the distance between ourselves and our God. Thus, when we want most desperately to draw together, to be closer, to be one, we pray.

It all comes back to prayer. It all comes back into the hands of our all-wise, all-powerful, and all-loving Father in Heaven and His son, Jesus Christ. They know us. They know what we are going through. They understand. When we want with our whole souls to understand, to empathise, to help, and to heal, They are waiting for us to call.

And with heavenly help involved, we cope and draw closer, no matter the outcome.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Wife Rule #71: She's a Rock

My wife is asleep on the couch while I'm writing this Wife Rule. It's late at night and she's right: I should be getting ready for bed instead. Once again, her practicality illuminates my illogicality.

When I sang with my church's signature choir, I came to feel that the lyrics of one song in particular kind of reminded me of my life:

My life goes on in endless song
above Earth's lamentation.
I hear the sweet, though far-off hymn
that hails a new creation.

I am by nature a passionate person who finds great satisfaction in constant creative expression. Amidst the countless lamentable situations of life, there is always beauty and hope, however far in the distance, springing from whatever gifts life has in store.

Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing.
It finds an echo in my soul.
How can I keep from singing?

Such poetic, passionate words do resonate in my soul. There is so much to say, so much to echo back to the world. Through whatever difficulties I must pass, I always have my faith and my family, two supernal gifts that provide endless music, endless reasons to hope. How can I keep from singing, from celebrating the goodness in my life?

I find expressive outlets for my passion in music, in art, and in words, including these Wife Rules. My wife married a sentimental, strange man.

Passion is not all love poems and roses, however. My emotions, like most strong-willed things, have an untamed side that occasionally rears its head. My wife knows me well enough by now to patiently roll her eyes when I lean a little to the extreme during one of my rants. She is wise enough to wait for me to get down off the soapbox I sometimes climb on before injecting a little dose of devil's advocacy, or alternate interpretations of events, or the sometimes needed reality-check. She knows me, she understands me, and best of all, she loves me.

She is a rock to me.

Those of you who have been with your spouses far longer than me probably chuckle when I admit this, but after ten years together, I thought I pretty much knew my wife. But life has a way of throwing new curve balls at us that reveal ever more of the stuff our souls are full of, called character. And my wife is absolutely stuffed with the stuff.

Certain events in our lives have underscored to me just how steady and rock-like she really is. When life gets hard, I'm tough. But when life gets harder, I have a tendency to lose faith and wring my hands and exhaust my energies in some very helpful (I have not doubt) worrying. My life's endless song continues on, but all switched around in a minor key, like the Mickey Mousketeer anthem turned into a funeral dirge.

Not my wife. I have literally been stunned as I have watched things that should have sent her into a tailspin bounce off her wings like minor turbulence. At the time when I'm prone to start announcing orders to grab your chute and bail out, she is casually flipping on the "Fasten Safety Belts" lights. She is steady beyond my understanding.

Such steadiness is not something that I noticed right away. It's not what first attracted me to her. I don't recall saying to her during courtship, "You're smart, you're beautiful, and your uncanny tendency to remain calm during times of great duress really leaves an impression on my fluttering heart."

No, her steady, solid footing in life is one of those subtle yet sublime qualities that is woven into the very fabric of her soul; something that I have only come to appreciate when stress is applied to that fabric. But now I know it is there, and I am grateful for it.

Don't get me wrong; my wife is not perfect. There have been times when I have served as the steadying force in her life, too. But if she were keeping score (which she most assuredly isn't), she would notice that the Saving-Spouse tally would lean heavily to her side. She saves my passionate, overly-anxious caboose time and time again.

No storm can shake my inmost calm
while to that Rock I'm clinging
Since Love is Lord of heaven and earth
How can I keep from singing?

As I finish writing this rule, my steadfast rock of a wife slumbers lightly beside me in the room. It's late, and we should be in bed. But despite this fact, she stays out here for me; she knows I love her presence. Even if I'm not directly interacting with her, she's still here for me, comforting me, steadying me.

My Love.

My Rock.

My Wife.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Wife Rule #70: It's Only Weather

Life is hard sometimes.

Not just hard in the whiny, someone-said-something-rude-to-me, or I-can't-believe-I-have-to-mow-the-lawn-again-already sense, but truly hard.

Life is hard because we fail to live up to our potential. The more we learn, the more we love, the higher we ascend heavenward, the farther we have to fall when we fall short, which we always inevitably do.

Life is hard because it provides no shortage of situations that pit in mortal combat our highest, most noble emotions of love and hope against our lowest, basest emotions of anger and despair. Hard because such battles pull us so harshly, so jarringly, in opposite directions. Hard because we never could have fathomed we were meant to be nearly as ductile and stretchable as we have already proven to be, and certainly not as much as it looks like we're going to have to be.

Ultimately, life is hard because we choose to love. The ones we love hurt in ways we can't fully understand or save them from. They become sick and are beyond our power to heal. They make choices that will almost certainly cause them pain, and we can't stop them. It can be excruciating to watch someone we love suffer, no matter the source.

About six months after my wife's father tragically died from a car accident, I wrote her the following poem for our anniversary:

Each year passes over us like a procession of clouds.
Sometimes there is softness, and the breeze is welcome and refreshing.
Sometimes majestic vistas open above us, revealing the heavens.
And sometimes shadow obscures our view.
But no matter how thick, or heavy, or dark the sky,
Or how stern the driving wind,
One thing is sure!
It’s only weather
And in it’s time will pass.
And Love, ever present, will shine fully again
Like the eternal morning rays,
Warm and radiant on tear-stained cheeks,
And provide just enough perfect, sunlit beach
To walk down together for another year,
Making the next stretch even more beautiful than the last.

One thing my wife and I have learned through the hard experiences we have shared together is that even though life is hard, it is also a blessing. Even though life provides sufficient doses of suffering to teach us all we want to learn and much more, after the storms there is inevitably a period of rest. Ultimately the suffering makes rest sweeter because we no longer take our love for granted.

The same love that is at the root of so much of life's hardness is also the reward for enduring. This love only causes us pain because it also gives life its meaning. It's impossible to gain ultimate joy from loving without also knowing and experiencing to some degree the testing and trying of that love.

As our love is stretched and pulled by forces and events that seem to come out of the blue and blindside us, that bully and buffet and bruise us, we can rest assured that the storms won't last forever.

Like anything else that falls out of the sky, it's only weather.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Wife Rule #69: Vows Are For Renewing

My hands hug the wheel of our Mustang convertible while my eyes dart back and forth, taking in details. Many of the tourists on Maui drive this make and model--in fact, I bet nearly all of the Mustang convertibles on the road belong to rental car companies. Most permanent residents probably own sensible hard-topped vehicles. Falling coconuts, you know.

Something else we have in common with many of the other tourists here is our little blue guide book, Maui Revealed. We have found ourselves "out of the traffic" on numerous occasions, somewhere that feels a little more peaceful and remote than the crowded condo beachfronts, and noted that the few other people we encounter out there are consulting the same blue book.

The authors say that many locals are mad at them for making some of Maui's best secrets available to visitors from the mainland. Such feelings are probably justified. No one without some type of inside knowledge would ever find some of these places, which is why I'm hugging the wheel and scanning the roadside while my wife re-reads the directions in the blue book.

"Look for the lava rock wall to appear on the right. There it is. Okay, at the bottom of a deep dip in the road, there's a fish taco stand called Makena Grill." This restaurant appears to consist of a picnic table under a shade tree, a pickup truck, and according to the blue book, excellent food and "snippy service."

About fifty feet further, there is supposed to be a four-foot passageway cut through the wall that allows access to the beach. Ahh, there it is, and here we pull off. There are no other cars in sight, except one belonging to a couple enjoying fish tacos--apparently a honeymooning couple, as she is wearing a big rock and sitting squarely in his lap.

Near solitude. The blue book is about to deliver, again.

We follow the wall to the small break and press through. On the other side is a small but pristine beach, about fifty feet of white sand wedged between chocolate lava rocks. The water is an idyllic aquamarine blue, the wave action provides perfect sound effects, and palm trees cast their shadows over the scurrying inhabitants of tide pools. A few yards out, a sea turtle briefly surfaces.

Ahhh, Maui.

Here on the beach there is just enough sand to support a party of fifty or so, though we only see one other family here today. No wonder this tiny, unmarked "public" beach is often used for making and renewing wedding vows. It's perfectly proportioned and seductively secluded for a fairytale princess story.

So after spending exactly as much time as we wanted exploring the tide pools and getting our feet wet in the waves, my wife and I let the Maui mood overtake us. "Let's renew our vows before we leave," I suggested. "The blue book says it's a nice thing to do here."

"You romantic little devil," my wife coyly grinned back.

Since my wife has already recorded this Magic Moment, I will use her words to recount it to you:

The beach is very small and hard to see the entrance to. It is beautiful though. Apparently a lot of marriages are kissed into being here. Knowing that, we renewed our vows as we left.

"Honey, will you marry me all over again?"

"Yes Dear, forever. Will you keep me too?"

"Yes, I love you."

High five.

High five? Yea, that's the way it went down.

So there you have it. Just like a brand new set of quality tires, I figure our marriage is now good for another ten years or 100,000 miles, at least.

But aside from extending our warranty, what does it really mean to renew our vows?

To be perfectly accurate, the vows we renewed on the beach were our engagement vows, wherein we privately committed to each other to be married, and not our actual public wedding vows. When my wife and I were married, we made vows to a third party with authority to bind us together. In our case, it was a kindly old gentleman in whom both the state and our church had vested authority to join couples together as husband and wife. He asked us questions and we answered him. Vows are made this way in nearly all marriage ceremonies--couples make promises to the one with authority to marry, not to each other directly.

Yet as an authorized representative of our church, this gentleman symbolized much more. Just like the first earthly marriage, performed in the Garden of Eden, our Father in Heaven was present at our wedding. The kindly old man served as a surrogate as my wife and I made our vows directly to God. I like knowing that our Eternal Father was present as we formed our own eternal family.

And the vows we made to Him are eternal vows, promises that extend through the end of our mortal lives and far beyond, into infinite and currently unknown times and circumstances. After only ten years, we have already learned that there is real power in such a long-term perspective on our promises: it puts short-lived problems and pin-pricks in their proper place.

One might think that the eternal nature of our vows would mean they can never be broken, but on the contrary, they require such high standards for our union that my wife and I regularly mess things up. Thankfully, our quest for a perfect marriage is not doomed by temporary failures; there is a regular renewal of these vows built right into our religion.

When we take the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, we renew all the vows we have made to God, including those made at baptism and marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 11:24-28, Paul spoke of what the Savior said when he first gave His disciples the Lord's supper:

And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come....

But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup.

In my church, we believe that a vital part of the self-examination required to partake of the sacrament of the Lord's Supper involves renewing all vows and covenants we have made with our Lord. Thus, I have the opportunity each week in church to review my performance and progress as a husband, and renew my commitment to be the best companion I can be. The promises I made to God the day we wed are made bright weekly, through repentance, remembrance, and recommitment.

Any vow worth making in the first place is worth renewing regularly. We need not wait ten years for an anniversary trip to Maui to do it. We can renew our vows every week in church, as we invoke the Savior's grace and help. Better yet, we can renew our vows every day as we look lovingly into the eyes of the one we love, seeing beyond imperfections and focusing on the long-term view: remembering the beauty and wonder of the person we fell in love with long ago, choosing to appreciate that person's great good in the here and now, and anticipating future joys that need never end.

That's something my wife and I can do today, right now, with or without the blue book.