Thursday, December 31, 2009

Wife Rule #124: Pause to Reflect

It always pays off to pause to reflect on what has been happening in life. We have an annual event--the writing of the yearly Christmas newsletter--that helps us in this effort. Here is this year's entry:

Dear friends and family, we are attempting to “spice up” another rather mundane Christmas newsletter by presenting it in a style inspired by humor columnist Dave Barry’s “Year in Review” series. So here’s our Family 2009 Year in Review:

January: Besides making resolutions that we mostly don’t remember anymore, we spend a lot of time shivering. We also spend weeks trying to free the children’s remaining Christmas toys from their display packaging. Did you know a single Barbie has 347 distinct connectors that must be severed, some with bolt cutters, in order to release her from her cardboard display, which when unfolded, is approximately the same square footage as our home? My wife, being recently released from three years of service as the Primary President, resolves to have hobbies again. Rachel (age seven) resolves to spend as much of the year upside-down as possible, and vigorously works towards this goal by hanging off the couch onto her head during all religious family functions.

February: My wife and I return to sunny St. George for our second annual winter getaway, inspired by our first annual winter getaway last year, inspired by our first-ever vacation away from children in Hawaii the summer before. My parents, who watch the kids yet again, see a worrisome pattern developing. We have a fabulous time, doing totally crazy things such as eating our food while it’s still warm, taking naps, and enjoying actual dead spots in the conversation. My wife takes Andrew (age three) to the Thanksgiving Point Farm where he experiences his first full-on crush: she’s kind of short, has long brown hair, is named “Flicka,” and is a pony.

March begins okay, with Rachel upside down a lot (gymnastics class, you know) and Dawn (age nine) and Scott (age five) starting up the spring soccer season with a bang. Unfortunately, it turns into a rather somber month when we learn that my dad has cancer again, after about five years of remission. We spend a lot of time crying and praying. This leaves Scott with excess pent-up energy, which he releases by scoring soccer goals like a madman. He scored six in his first game against the other team’s one (really).

April: Spring Fever hits hard. The tulips burst forth at Thanksgiving Point botanical gardens and our family spends hours there, frolicking on flowery, grassy knolls along with the fluffy bunnies who escaped the Elmer Fudd-like exploits of the overly protective gardening staff. Nearly the whole extended family treks through wind and snow to camp and hike together at Arches National Park. Here, my dad, my brother, and I—in the grand name of tradition—rouse the kids from their tents, through early-morning snow flurries, and march them—in their pajamas—for several miles off-trail through a red-rock canyon riddled with icy pools to cross and terrifying (if you are three) cliffs to scale. After the survivors return and all the band-aids are applied and all the tears are dried, the kids plainly discern that tradition not only builds a lot of character, but also is fun! Scott averages 13,057 goals per soccer game. An opposing player loses an arm when, in frustration, he tries to knock down one of Scott’s super-sonic, goal-scoring kicks. Charity turns the big Uno.

May: Dawn, Rachel, and I go to a Daddy-daughter Sock Hop at the church, and win the “Most Authentic Costume” award on account of the girls’ adorable homemade poodle skirts and my naturally greasy hair. Soccer season ends with Scott’s tally topping 1,000,000 goals, shattering intergalactic records. Andrew has a falling-out with Flicka when she is seen giving a ride to another boy at the farm, and takes the hayride instead. I turn 30-something (again), and start daydreaming about the next trip to Arches.

June: Motivated by Dad’s cancer, plus thinking how cute we would look smooching on the bow of a large cruise ship, my wife and I decide to pony up the cash to join my parents on a 7-day Alaskan cruise (thanks again for watching the kids, Mom!). Charity tags along, and, although she is barely one year old and sleeps in the closet, costs $450. She does, however, single-handedly score us a reserved table by the window and a super-attentive waiter by virtue of being as cute as a button. She manages to wolf down at least, maybe 50 calories per meal, at a dismal efficiency rate of 2.33 calories per dollar spent. I earnestly try to compensate for this inefficiency by ingesting at least 2,000 calories at every sitting, usually eating at least two entrees and two desserts, and I return home looking, well, more like Jabba the Hutt than Han Solo, if you follow. The first time I go out to play with the kids on the trampoline after returning, I take a mighty jump and find myself standing on the grass beneath, having broken clean through it (really). While on the cruise, my wife turns 30-something (again). I am called to replace the wonderful Elders Quorum President I have been serving with for three years. My wife and I celebrate this new opportunity for growth by both growing several new gray hairs.

July: My side of the extended family spends a reunion in Paris Idaho (thanks again, Mom), in the house where my wife grew up. Here we do a little bit of everything this region of Idaho has to offer: swimming at Bear Lake, spelunking in Minnetonka Cave, hiking in Bloomington Canyon, eating yummy food, playing games, talking into the wee hours of the night, and, of course, shooting stuff. I take pictures of my parents sporting guns with genuine weeds hanging out of their mouths. Andrew’s horizons expand when he notices that there are lots of other ponies here. Rachel spends some quality time upside-down. She and Scott turn eight and six, respectively.

August is a whirlwind of activity—the kind that typically leaves a jumble of trailer homes behind it. We start out with the happiest of occasions, Rachel’s baptism, which is everything we hoped it would be. This is followed by a week in Newport Beach, where Charity eats lots of sand, Andrew throws lots of sand, Scott kicks lots of sand, Rachel spends lots of time upside down with her hair in the sand, and Dawn spends all her time in the water (there’s one in every family). We arrive home just in time to travel to Idaho for my wife’s sister’s wedding, where—as if a minivan full of five kids weren’t already chaotic enough—we promptly make a spectacle of ourselves by taking the wrong road on the way to the temple, instead taking a scenic tour of the Snake River and showing up nearly a full hour late (thanks again for waiting). Scott, Rachel, and Dawn start school and soccer. Scott decides defending is really “his thing” and tones it down on the goals (no one on the opposing team loses any limbs during his first game). Andrew joins Rachel (still upside-down) in gymnastics. Rachel joins Dawn in the ranks of piano students. Dawn joins the 4th grade ballroom dance team. The kids all shine as their talents continue to develop.

September is a welcome return to our regularly-scheduled program of controlled chaos. The kids are back at school, I am grateful to be back at work, and Andrew has replaced Flicka with a new love at the farm: a small, plastic, red fire engine in the gift shop. Now he begs to return to the farm to see the fire engine instead of the ponies. Charity, growing into quite the little lady, begins a love affair with purses—or when a real purse can’t be found, any pair of undees she can find laying around that will fit over her arm. My wife is happy to have the chance to just breathe. My dad accompanies me, Scott, and Andrew on a Fathers and Sons campout, and helps a ton. Thanks, Dad!

October: Thanks to a hot tip from Mom, we spend two jam-packed days on a “staycation” wherein we see everything around town (the zoo, the aquarium, the planetarium, etc) that we have promised to take our kids to for ages, and have the time of our lives. We survive another weekend of “making memories by defying death” in Arches National Park. I return home in a blissful, dream-like state and immediately begin planning next April’s trip to Arches. Halloween involves too much sugar: Rachel is on her head for weeks, and Scott finishes off the soccer season by inflicting a full decapitation during a goal-scoring kick. Andrew turns four and literally shakes with delight as he opens both the red and the green fire engines from the farm’s gift shop. He also asks for, and receives, a Dirt Devil handheld vacuum and is genuinely delighted (who knew?).

November: Chilly air brings the scent of tradition. My wife delights herself in decorating, and delights the rest of us in baking. My dad begins chemo and can surely use your prayers. Dawn (who turns ten next month) absolutely slays her teacher with her preparation for her 4th grade research report. My wife and I worry that we are spoiled by having an overachieving first child. Christmas shopping shapes up, the whole family spends a week sick, and this Year in Review is written, the week before Thanksgiving. I am sure to become a little fatter by the end of the month (a cause for celebration all its own), but for now we are concentrating on being thankful for you, and believe us, we are.

December: As for our family, we’ll see what unfolds; there will be parties, concerts, recitals, and of course, more chaos. We hope that December finds you well and happy. It is, after all, the happiest of all the happy months of the year, celebrating the world’s best news of all: a Baby was born with the message and power to change us, forever. And the our family is shooting for forever, even if one month at a time.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wife Rule #123: Appreciate the Gifts

My wife often gives me gifts. Not the kind that are wrapped in colored paper with ribbons or bows, but the intangible, more valuable kind: gifts of service, gifts of self, and gifts of time.

This past month she has given me a precious gift of time by agreeing that I should participate in a church-sponsored production of selections from Handel's Messiah. For the last several years I have sung with my parents and siblings in the chorus for this production. Singing together is a cherished family tradition, dating back as far as I can remember, to the hymns we would sing together each Monday family night, to weekly congregational singing in church with Dad as chorister, to the many years we sang together in our church choir with Dad often serving as the choir director, to more recent memories of huddling around the piano at family gatherings and singing Christmas music or hymns to our Lord.

Throughout all these memories, if I could point to a single common thread besides the sweet Spirit that always accompanies the unifying experience of singing sacred music together, it would be Dad. Dad's intense love of music, coupled with his profound love for the Lord, brought a passion and sweet flavor to these singing experiences that has engraved itself on my heart and memory like a soft, ongoing melody.

As the Messiah concert has developed into sort of a new tradition, I have come to relish the yearly opportunity to sing with the choir, which continues to improve, and the orchestra, which is absolutely top-notch for a community-level production. Unfortunately, my wife's experience sitting with the kids in the audience has continued to deteriorate year after year, culminating in several tantrums so loud last year that she was forced to first leave the chapel where the audience sat, then leave the adjacent foyer, and eventually sit out the remainder of the two-hour program in a remote classroom where my loving progeny couldn't be heard by those trying to enjoy the music. She vowed never to bring the younger kids to the Messiah again.

Hence, this year not only did she give me the opportunity to practice with the choir, but also her blessing to spend a precious December night away from the family at the performance. This is a significant sacrifice for a full-time mother of five children ages ten to one, and one that is very much appreciated. She knows how much this means to me, despite the difficulty of leaving my family for another night. She was genuinely happy to do it, especially considering that we don't know how many more performances my Dad will be able to sing with us in, with his ongoing cancer struggle.

This year's production held an unexpected treat. During Saturday morning's dress rehearsal, as we were getting ready to sing the most well-known and beloved of all the Messiah choruses, the Hallelujah chorus, the conductor suddenly stopped and said, "I have a special request." She then asked my father if he would come down to the podium and take the baton to conduct choir and orchestra through this masterful composition of scriptural praise set to jubilant music.

As Dad made his way through the choir seats and then through the orchestra to the podium, there were quiet whispers of excitement among us. Nearly everyone from the choir knew Dad--knew of his long service as a church music conductor, of his love of music, knew of his struggle with cancer, but especially knew of his quiet, humble, unassuming demeanor and his unwavering faith in the Lord.

As Dad flicked the baton to start the orchestra in the opening measures, energy built up in the choir until it practically exploded in the first strains of "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" The sound burst forth in perfect rhythm and harmony in praise of Jesus Christ, the Savior who had healed the man now conducting us five years ago from cancer, and He to whom we now trusted Dad's life in his current struggles.

"Hallelujah!" Our single-word cries of love and adoration for God rang through the chapel.

"For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth!" Expressions of faith in our all-powerful Creator mingled with unspoken cries of hope for further healing and faith in His wisdom as my father's hand led us onward through the chorus.

"King of kings, and Lord of lords!" Tears flowed freely now from many members of the chorus as we contemplated the majesty of the Savior's position as Creator of kingdoms without end.

"And He shall reign forever and ever!" Yes, forever and ever. That is what we have to look forward to. There will come a time when sickness, and loss, and sorrow will end and all will be replaced with order and perfection by the might of His arm and the grace of His love for us. Dad's cancer is temporary. The humble, gentle man now standing before us, leading us through an anthem of faith and adoration, will someday be permanently healed. In the eternities, Dad and every friend and loved one who honors the name of Christ the King of kings and Lord of lords, will reign with Him forever and ever, in happiness that never ends.

Our voices broke again and again until the final triumphal shouts of "Hallelujah! Hallelujah!" gave way to a few seconds of silence, followed by enthusiastic applause. Amidst teary eyes and encouraging smiles, Dad made his way back to his seat with the choir, and the conductor took her place to lead the soloists through the transcendent melodies of I Know that My Redeemer Liveth and The Trumpet Shall Sound:

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the last day.
Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.

The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised, incorruptible. And we shall be changed.

Yes, we shall be changed. Changed from mortality to immortality. Changed from our frail, sinful states to a condition of perfected glory, to stand together with our families, forever to worship our Creator, our Redeemer, and the Captain of our souls.

Thank you for the gift of time, my Love.

Thank you for the gift of music and testimony, Dad.

And thank You for the gifts of redemption and love, my Savior and Messiah.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Wife Rule #122: Appreciate the Good Days

I am now finishing day eight of a nasty run-in with Swine-Flu's lesser-known little brother. This illness looks, acts, and feels like Swine or any other good, hearty flu, but yet turns up negative on the flu tests. That means Tama-Flu won't help. There's nothing to do but try to rest (while juggling life) and wait it out.

I am getting weary of being sick and am a little discouraged today, having taken a step backwards, and especially since three of my five kids have now joined me on the Fever and Cough Train. I tried my hardest not to share. Really I did.

But Wednesday was a good day. It was the first day since last Sunday that I didn't feel foggy around the brain. It was the day my appetite ventured back, at least into the background. It was the day I only napped for two hours and still felt pretty good by 8:00 at night. It was also the day Mom and Dad dropped in to visit.

That was a special treat, because I had been wanting to see them fairly badly since we had to cancel our visiting plans on Sunday on account of this sickness. Dad started chemotherapy two weeks ago, and I hadn't seen him since--only talked to him on the phone. Everyone else in the family had found a way to make it up for a visit but me. It just hadn't worked out. I wanted to see him badly, just to tell him in person that I am sorry he is sick, and I am sorry he is suffering. But delivering both comfort and the Black Plague to a sick man with a weakened immune system didn't seem like a good idea.

So it is a little ironic that it was me who was crashed out on the couch on Wednesday and awoke to find Dad standing nearby, greeting me with a smile and a bit of a concerned look on his face. He told me that he was sorry that I was sick. I reciprocated. I stared up at that man that I love with all my heart. He didn't look tired; it is his week off chemo, and he was having a good day. I longed to give him a hug. It's all I've wanted to do for several weeks now, but I knew better. There will be a chance for hugs later, and for that I am grateful.

Mom and Dad didn't stay long, and now that four of us are running hundred-and-two's, I'm glad they didn't. But it was so refreshing, so comforting to see them, even if for only a few minutes. It made Wednesday an extra good day.

And to cap off a good day, Wednesday night held an extra treat in store, specifically the hour from 3:00 to 4:00 AM. It was during this hour that I found myself unable to sleep, with my mind recalling in vivid detail the Alaskan cruise my wife and I took with Mom and Dad and one-year-old Charity back in June. It was a most pleasant hour.

Mom and Dad had planned this cruise with friends several months earlier. We tagged along at the last minute, quite frankly, because of Dad's cancer diagnosis. We had talked of going on a cruise with them for years, but it was never convenient. Then cancer, the Great Priority Reshuffler, suddenly made it convenient. We got one of the very last cabins in the price range we could afford.

It was our first experience cruising, and we had a marvelous week. Even though cancer spurred us out the door, it was absent on the cruise. I can honestly say that the week consisted of only smiles, happy conversation, adventures, recreation, amazing food, and the occasional poopy diaper. We had a great time together and I will always cherish that week in my memory.

I just hadn't gotten around to writing it down before now; I don't know why. Maybe it's because there was too much detail to record in a few hours. Maybe it's because I was afraid of not doing it justice. Maybe it's just life. But the hour I spent back on the cruise again Wednesday night, in a pleasant, dream-like state of silent reverie, devoid of any sight or sound or workaday worries to distract me, felt something akin to heaven. I decided then, while wrapped underneath two quilts with my heated mattress pad on (chills, you know), that I needed to write it down, and soon, before the visions passed forever from my mind.

* * *

My memories centered around and kept flowing back to one certain day of the cruise, the day we sailed up Tracy Arm. Tracy Arm is one of the Alaskan fjords that runs several miles inland, winding its way through a dramatic canyon cut between majestic glacier-topped peaks. While the famous Alaskan Inside Passage afforded rather spectacular scenery during much of the cruise, this was the only day during the week when the windows and deck of the boat were the front-row seats of the primary attraction.

Tracy Arm was spectacular; it was the best scenery of the week. The imposing gray cliffs of the mountains often plunged into the water at the same nearly-vertical angles they maintained for hundreds of feet up the mountainside, disappearing into the inky, glacially-tinted aquamarine waters. Every so often the cliffs were segmented by fissures, in which grew hardy pines and shrubs, or were split clean open by a miniature canyon barely wide enough for the continuous onslaught of meltwater that roared and foamed its way into the Mother Sea.

Where the vertical cliffs gave way to more tempered slopes, they were blanketed by dense forest growth of a surprisingly lustrous green, giving the canyon walls a look similar to tightly-packed boulders with a heavy moss coating on top, magnified a hundred thousand times.

The individual mountains were demarcated by grand, U-shaped valleys, each with its own glacier, whose erosive forces subtly but surely increase the reach of the tentacles of Tracy Arm as she claws her way further inland, year after year. These long, narrow valleys often looked like a slice of paradise, paradoxically juxtaposed against the fury of a world of ice and snow. The verdant fields of grass and lazy, meandering streams seemed to hold a magnetic attraction to the spotty sunlight that day, illuminating them with gold and giving them such an idyllic appearance that I was almost amazed not to see great herds of moose or caribou luxuriating in the gentle caress of their meadows.

But, it seemed that the wildlife that day was all in the fjord, sharing the waters with our ship, the Golden Princess. In fact, just as we (my wife, Charity, and I) were finishing up breakfast while enjoying the scenery out the window, an announcement came over the Public Address system to look for some seals alongside the ship. We all got up to look, since the announcement came from the very dramatic voice of our trusty, on-board naturalist.

A few words about our naturalist: he was probably forty-something, maybe pushing fifty, but apparently still believed he was quite a catch. He wore hippie garb and had long, flowing brown locks and a thick mustache below beady little eyes; kind of a hybrid of the musician Yanni and Geraldo Rivera, but without the talent or the broken nose. His oratory style was singularly dramatic, uttering every single line as if it was both profound and deeply moving, with his voice inflection sinking down a full octave on the last syllable of each phrase. Think of the melodramatic tempo of William Shatner: "Space... The final frontier... These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise..." but imagine that his voice dips from normal range to a deep, sultry bass on the words Space, frontier, and Enterprise, and you will get the sense of listening to our naturalist. We only survived the first twenty minutes of his first lecture, through hushed sniggering and gleeful sideways glances, before leaving. But we carried his legacy with us throughout the week, often repeating phrases in his oratory style for dramatic effect ("Please... pass the breadbasket...").

So as I said, I was just about to bite into my last sausage when our naturalist came on the PA system to announce that a mother seal could be seen with her cub, resting on a small iceberg up ahead. Then he went on: "You know... it's amazing up here... in the mighty Alaskan wilderness... that nothing is wasted... I once saw a bald eagle land on a blood-red iceberg... it was ravenously eating something there... but it wasn't a baby seal... it was the afterbirth... the baby seal was safe with its mother... and the eagle was well fed... nothing is wasted, not even the bloody afterbirth..."

After that moving and emotional story, I looked down at the greasy piece of meat on my plate and asked my wife, "You want my sausage?"

It was about this time that my parents found us and we all decided to head up to the top deck to better enjoy the scenery. It was fairly warm for a June day as far north as we were, and the breeze was nearly non-existent. We marveled at the slate cliffs and waterfalls, the green of the forest, the height of the mountains, the ominous coldness of the water, and the small chunks of glacial ice floating all around us. Every once in a while the ship would run right over the top of one large enough to hear just a little crunch and groan as it was pulverized beneath our weight (see, all that cruise food does some good!).

Speaking of excess weight, our naturalist came over the PA again: "Now here in these frigid waters... where waterfalls cascade down like satin ribbons... a human will only survive about ten minutes... before freezing to death... the longest record of human survival here... in majestic Tracy Arm... was a native woman of the north who fell in... and it took them almost an hour to find her... but she was still conscious... and holding onto a log... she survived without any serious injuries... How did she do it?... She was less than five feet tall... and weighed over 300 pounds... like the seal or the otter... her natural insulation protected her..."

At this point we all agreed that we felt pretty optimistic about our chances for survival. After all, we had spent the whole trip up to this point preparing for just such a catastrophe by stuffing ourselves to the point of exhaustion during every meal. I mean, let's be honest: the main point of a cruise--yes, the main point, even more than whatever sights there are to see--is to eat like a pig. You could actually emulate a low-budget cruise fairly realistically by dressing in fancy clothes and parking yourself in Chuck-a-rama every day for twelve hours straight.

* * *

The food on the Golden Princess, of course, was much better than Chuck-a-rama. Instead of struggling to decide between the fried chicken or the roast beef, you had to struggle with the decision between filet mignon with sauteed shrimp, or the blackened swordfish with lobster reduction. It didn't take long to discover that in reality there was no reason to choose between the two at all, when you could solve the problem by simply having both. This proved to be an essential strategy, because most of the menu items only showed up one night of the cruise, only to be replaced by other outrageously yummy items the next night. I employed this strategy at almost every meal, and as a result I maximized my chances to sample some of the tastiest food I have ever eaten in my life.

Of course, let's not forget the appetizers. From a person who has never ordered an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert from an ala carte menu, these simply could not be missed. I almost always ended up with a shrimp cocktail (available every night) and some other adventurous thing, such as a lobster souffle, or thin pieces of meat with artfully drizzled French sauces on them. I don't even really know what most of the appetizers were; but they were almost always delicious. Even the escargot was surprisingly good, like eating cheesy, garlicky, buttery, rubber bands. The lone exception was the caviar, which was like eating grainy tapioca soaked in super-strong fish oil--no, thanks.

Then of course there were the desserts: each night there was a different dessert menu, again with several "standard" choices available every night and a half-dozen or so items that only appeared once. I always ordered any available dessert souffle after my first rewarding experience with the chocolate souffle, punctured personally by my waiter and filled via teaspoon to the brim with warm caramel ("Are you sure you want another spoonful, sir?" "If you've got more, keep it coming!"). I almost always ended up with two desserts as well. I think my stomach stretched significantly during that week. Those were good days.

Dessert also provided some of the best entertainment of the whole meal, as I'll explain in a minute. We spent our first dinner at the buffet, but on the second day we went to one of the several formal restaurants early, to avoid the hour-long lines that often formed during peak mealtime. During our second meal at the restaurant, one of the MaƮtre d's, an older gentleman from Portugal named Antonio, took a particular liking to Charity. When he came to personally take our dessert orders he asked, "And what would leetle Charitee like?" We replied to bring a small dish of ice cream. "Oh no! No, Charitee would like The Volcano!" So it was that he brought her a large dish with three huge scoops of ice cream and a mound of whipping cream and chocolate sauce about five inches high. She took one look at her Volcano, looked up, and smiled. Antonio was smitten.

At the end of the night, Antonio asked us, "How would you like to have a reeserved table here everee night, by the window?" Are you kidding? There were only about a dozen tables by windows at all, and this meant that we would never have to wait in line! "Just come at seex o'clock, and Antonio will take care of you, right leetle Charitee?"

So we came every night at six o'clock, strolled past the long line already formed at the door (rumors of the filet mignon and prime rib must have reached the buffet crowd at last), and sat down at our reserved table by the window. There was always a high chair waiting for Charity. Antonio would come by to take her order while the rest of us were still deciding on appetizers. Then he would personally bring her food out and painstakingly cut it into bite-size pieces on her tray. "Ees thees leetle enough?" he would check with my wife or me. When he saw that Charity was settled in for her meal, he would disappear to his other duties and let our normal waiter staff take care of the rest of us (which included bringing our courses, taking our dishes, swiping crumbs off the table, smoothing the tablecloth, etc).

Antonio would reappear 45 minutes later or so and ask "Ees Charitee ready for her meelk now?" and take her sippy cup back to the kitchen, wash it, and fill it with milk. He would then disappear again until making his final appearance to bring Charity her Volcano for dessert. Antonio made sure that Charity kept her own eating schedule, regardless of whether there was a backup in the kitchen for lobster for the rest of us, or whatever. He really made the difference for Charity.

One more dessert story before I return to Tracy Arm: tired of mousses, warm fruit cobblers, ice cream concoctions, dessert crepes and souffles, and everything else the menu offered, my nothing-if-not-adventurous wife decided to order the "fruit and exotic cheese" dish. The cheese, was, well, exotic. She enjoyed a few of the varieties, but crinkled up her nose when she poked at something called "esrom cheese." Mustering her courage, she forked off a small bite and popped it in her mouth. Her eyes immediately turned red and started watering, and she struggled to swallow before spluttering out "Sweaty armpits!" We had all paused to watch this spectacle and with her official assessment of esrom cheese we burst into laughter. And then, for some unexplainable reason, my nothing-if-not-persistent wife took another bite, setting off another chain of tears, hacking, spluttering, and even harder laughter. "I just wanted to see if it was really as bad as I thought it was," she later explained. "And it was even worse. It was like... like putrid feet!" My dad thought that was one of the funniest things he had ever seen, and mentioned esrom cheese with glee for weeks afterwards.

* * *

It was this type of humor that provided the good cheer we found ourselves enjoying up on the deck of the ship while cruising up Tracy Arm. Enjoying the scenery from the ship was a different type of recreation; not necessarily the superior type for every day, but today it felt like the best place to be.

Over the previous days we had hiked the lush rainforest surrounding Mendenhall glacier out of Juneau, and taken a bus ride into the Yukon from Skagway (yes, take the bus, not the train, unless you get a real charge out of riding a rickety old train; but the bus goes much farther north whereas the train doesn't even reach the best scenery). We had marveled at a river that splits clean in two on the continental divide, emptying into both oceans (really!), watched Iditarod dogs clamor to pull sleds (Charity loved the puppies), and saw a bear rummaging through an old Yukon railyard. In the next several days we would enjoy both the shops and the rainforests of Ketchikan, and the beauty of the city and shores of Victoria. The on-shore activities were top-notch.

On the ship we had fully utilized the available venues, having gone to the musical shows with mixed reviews of what we saw there; enjoyed ballroom dancing lessons (thanks again for babysitting, Mom and Dad); been to several of the dances--some alone, some with the whole crew; watched the amazing skills of the performers of the Rolla-bolla act as they performed mind-bending balancing feats atop stacked layers of rolling cylinders; laughed at the charming juggler guy whose appeal probably came as much from looking and acting like a normal guy as it did from his skills; and spent hours being dazzled by Chris May, their on-board Jazz pianist.

Chris was amazing. His arrangements were top-notch and virtuosic, his repertoire seemed endless, and his voice was that of a classic New Orleans jazz man. He was surely the least appreciated of all the performers, coming out only later at night and playing to a small, intimate crowd. My wife and I sat there, mesmerized for at least 30 minutes every night after we discovered him. I would sit right by the piano with a rather stupid-looking grin on my face as I watched his fingers fly across the keyboard effortlessly. It was exceptional entertainment.

There were a couple of memories of dancing that will stick, too. The first is when all of us--Mom, Dad, Charity, my wife, and me--went dancing to the music of a small, live band at the back of one of the clubs. We only stayed for maybe fifteen minutes, but in those minutes my mind recorded footage that I will cherish forever: Mom and Dad dancing, not just the slow dances, but the faster ones too. Them laughing; them together; them looking at each other like newlyweds; them taking Charity, allowing my wife and I a slow dance together; holding my wife and softly pecking her on the cheek; dancing all together in a circle, with Charity in the middle. It was one of those times where, for the sheer joy of the moment, time slowed to a crawl and I found myself wishing it would never end.

The other was when my wife and I, who had been practicing our West Coast Swing moves (I only do dances I have been taught, not having any natural aptitude at all), were given a "lucky stick" by some random guy. He walked up, gave it to us, and told us to hang onto it. I should have known that was trouble. We didn't realize that the random guy was a staff member who had been charged with finding three couples to do a Twist competition, and our "lucky stick" was our ticket into the competition. I panicked. I didn't (and you may have a hard time believing this) even know what the Twist was, and as fate would have it, we were Couple Number One. I had no idea what to do, so with the spotlight and all eyes on us, I gave my wife the most desperate look I could that pleaded "Please don't abandon me on this... whatever you do, just keep ahold of my hand!" and led her through a snazzy West Coast Swing while the band played a Twist.

There was restrained applause when our 90 seconds of pure torture was over, and I was never more relieved to shrink into the shadows then when he announced Couple Number Two. They were a 60-something couple from Japan who did the Twist perfectly. After seeing what they did, I thought "Ooooh, I could have done that!" I just didn't know. The Japanese couple won the contest (and finished with an impressive flourish). A few kind-hearted souls approached us afterwards and said "I would have voted for you, but... you just didn't dance the Twist!" No kidding.

Happy to have that awkward moment behind us, I am quite content now to be up on the deck, viewing spectacular Tracy Arm. The four of us (plus Charity) have been chatting about this and that, pointing out interesting features in the scenery, sharing stories and memories, and laughing together in an idyllic way. It occurs to me that this is what the ultimate goal of family is all about; moments like these, where Father, Mother, Son, and Daughter are all together, sharing life as friends and peers, bound together in common love. Eternity was made for an unending stream of moments like this.

* * *

Suddenly the voice of our fearless naturalist bursts over the PA system, this time announcing a contest. After a brief quote by Shakespeare, he said, "I'm sure... that like me... you are all duly inspired... by the grandeur of magnificent Tracy Arm... So I'd like you... to write a Haiku... about our morning in Tracy Arm... and I'll award prizes to the best ones..."

And we were duly inspired. We all brainstormed for the best combination of quotes from William Shatner, William Shakespear, and our naturalist. Dad thought up several impressive entries along this line, such as:

Into Tracy Arm
Where no man has gone before
saith William S.

But perhaps the family favorite was this one that yours truly composed, as if inspired by Nature herself:

Ravenous eagle
Ingests blood-red afterbirth.
You want my sausage?

This triggered a whole new generation of gross Haikus, each of them eliciting giggles until the whole conversation had erupted into laughter. For several days following, Dad and I delighted in composing a Haiku consisting of some disgusting description in twelve syllables and ending with the line "You want my sausage?" We are all quite certain that if we had stopped laughing long enough to actually turn in our favorite Haiku contest entry, that it would have won. It certainly captured our experience in Tracy Arm, as narrated by our fearless naturalist.

* * *

As the fjord narrowed, we approached the bay where the water bumped up against the largest of the glaciers--a huge wall of crumbling ice that dwarfed our ship. The water around us now had much larger and more interesting icebergs floating in it, each pocked with holes, and criss-crossed with cracks, of a deep, vibrant glacial blue. We spent a long time on deck pointing out different icebergs and the bizzarre shapes and textures they had. Ever wonder why glacial ice is blue? As a helpful display at the Mendenhal Glacier informed us, "It is because all the other colors of light are absorbed by the ice and only the blue light is reflected back." Oh, really? Thanks so much for clearing that up.

It was here also that the true skill of our captain was evident, as he stopped the boat and did a complete 180-degree turn in place. There wasn't much room for error; it seemed like the bow and stern of the boat might each scrape the cliffs as we pivoted. Ice was sucked into the swirling vortexes left behind, and pulverized underneath our ship with great, shivering groans. And then we were off, at a little greater speed, towards the opening of the fjord and our next destination.

All too soon our adventure in Tracy Arm was behind us, transformed in an instant from present to memory. But what a pleasant present it was, and what sunny memories they are! Celebrating life's good days is a key to living happily, and our days aboard the Golden Princess, and particularly our morning in Tracy Arm, were some of the best we've had.

As we face an unknown future regarding Dad's cancer, there will be both bad days and good. The only certain thing is that the trials and pains of mortality will eventually pass away and we will be left with only our memories of these times. I hope that when that time comes, my wife and I, my parents, and the rest of us will be able to see that we have not let life wear us down, but that we "tipped the balance" in our favor by focusing on and appreciating the good days. With that kind of attitude, I'm sure that our best days together are yet ahead.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Wife Rule #121: The Unblemished Truth

What do you call it when my wife
(1) gets all the kids ready for church because I am at early-morning meetings
(2) takes the tired, ornery baby during the last hour of church so I can be free to attend to my church responsibilities unimpeded,
(3) lets me attend choir practice, while she instead spends the hours right after church making her famous homemade rolls for our family dinner,
(4) makes a batch of cookies in addition,
(5) lets me--in fact, encourages me--to take a nap after choir practice, before heading out to the dinner,
(6) while gathered with the family, during a special moment of quiet reflection and solemnity involving my father with cancer, basically takes herself out of the picture by removing of all the noisy little kids, so the rest of the adults can enjoy the moment,
(7) is willing to take the kids home and put them to bed while I linger just a little longer with Mom and Dad on this special night,
(8) does a hundred more things that I probably fail to take notice of?

I don't know.

But whatever you call it, I certainly don't deserve it. I often really don't deserve her at all. And that's the unblemished truth.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wife Rule #120: It's Nice to Share

It's one of those lessons you learn in kindergarten. It makes snack time go so much more smoothly. It makes your mom happy because there's less fighting in the home. It helps people to like you. It even helps you win friends and influence people (just ask the lobbyists).

It's nice to share!

And tonight is one of those nights where the niceness of sharing is on the top of my mind, because I just got back from a very uplifting meeting and I'm floating a little. It's nice to come home in such a mood and grab the hand of my sweetheart and lift her up onto the cloud with me. The view is great up here tonight.

On the other end of the spectrum, we've recently had some more bad news with regard to my dad's cancer. It's nice to have someone to share that with, too. Her shoulders and neck are just the right height that when such tidings sort of drain the life right out of us, we can lean against each other and our heads kind of fit together. We can help to hold each other up when we share the downs.

And when we sat together Monday night with our little flock of five kids and watched Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone for the first time together (we recently finished the book), and little 1-year-old Charity decided that instead of watching the movie, she would dance and twirl and look over her shoulder and shrug and flirt a lot, we shared a giggle, and then we shared a laugh.

Sometimes after the kids have gone to bed, and we have diligently denied them dessert (because good parents have to do that sometimes), we share an indulgence of a dish of ice cream. Often when we share this way, we have to get seconds. But we share those too.

And last of all, before (and often after) we turn off the lamps in our bedroom, we share a final wrap-up conversation for the day. It's often the first chance we've really had to talk when the rest of the house is shrouded in silence. It's a great time to decompress, to discuss our kids, our parents, our siblings, our neighbors, and certainly not least, our marriage. We analyze, we plan, and sometimes we share a dream, just a little bit.

It doesn't matter so much what we are sharing; the important part is that we are sharing, at least a little bit, every day. We're both so much richer for it.

You can take that to the bank.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Wife Rule #119: Shoot for the Stars

She loves me, and that opens up a universe of opportunity.

We recently got back from three days--three marvelous days--of "roughing it" in the form of camping, cooking, and hiking in the wild, at Arches National Park.

Arches National Park isn't just any dumb old national park, either. It is a technicolor wonderland of sculpted red rock fins and canyons, hidden surprises and treasures, astonishing life eking out an existence under impossible circumstances, and electric blue skies so intense that they could literally cause your brain to blow a fuse if you stare heavenward too long.

And for me, it's absolutely dripping with nostalgia. Arches is a large part of the magic stuff of my childhood memories. It is where Dad used to drive us after he got off work, arriving late into the night when all we could make out were the strange silhouettes of the red rock formations against a backdrop of starry sky. It is where we once got lost in the maze called the Fiery Furnace and had to "escape" by lowering ourselves down cliffs and landing in secret arches in the sandstone fins. It is where I caught my severe case of desert fever, which still tends to flare up every spring and fall. It is where I first learned to love camping and hiking. It is where I concentrate my current efforts to brainwash my children into loving camping and hiking.

And it's working.

My younger sister, her husband, and her toddler accompanied us on this trip. At one point, as she struggled with her very energetic little boy, she pondered the work required for us to lug our family of seven (five children, ages 9 to 1) out here in the sand and rock, and asked my wife, "Why do you keep doing this?"

"If only you knew how much Matt loves this, you would understand," was my wife's simple reply.

Because she loves me.

And I love her, too. I also do inconvenient things to accommodate her needs and wants. We sometimes "go to Arches" for her, in her own way. We have agreed to do this stuff, together. It's just part of the package.

One of my favorite moments this trip was late the second night, after my wife had taken the younger three children to bed in the furnace-equipped trailer (it gets cold in the desert at night). I was sitting with my two older daughters by the last glowing embers of the fire, enjoying the silence and the stars before heading off to our tent. There was no moon during the duration of our trip, which opened the starry heavens above us in a glorious fashion. I can't remember ever seeing the Milky Way so clearly and distinctly before; we could make out individual shapes and features in the visible arm of our galaxy and discuss them together. We saw a number of shooting stars and spent a long while staring upward, relishing in the sights that are only available away from civilization.

I took the opportunity to tell my two daughters of the covenants the Lord made to Abraham and Sarah, that their posterity would be "as the stars of the heaven" (Genesis 22:17). After all, when the Lord made those promises to Abraham, he was most likely sitting under a starry sky much like this one, undiluted by city lights, in the stillness of the desert.

The stars of the heaven: mere billions is a drop in the bucket. The expanse of God's creations, as evidenced by the swirling clouds of light visible tonight, far exceeds the scope of what our minds are capable of comprehending.

This is what He promised to Abraham and his wife. This is what a husband and wife, joined together by God's power, are capable of. Consider the alternatives, I told my young daughters: an eternity of solitude, unattached to loved ones, or a family as great as the stars in the heavens.

My wife and I, after all, love each other. The small choices, like trips to Arches, are evidence enough of that. We're shooting for the stars.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Wife Rule #118: Just Had to Share

As you recall,
I didn't sleep well last night
because of the rain blowing in.
It's the first storm of autumn,
bringing a sudden, delicious drop in temperature
and promising a scintillating smorgasbord for the senses,
just around the corner:
eye-popping color-candy in the boughs of the trees,
the pleasant crunch of leaves underfoot,
the earthy smell of decay in the air,
and the harvest of all the year's promise,
culminating in a cornucopia of holiday tradition.

What's not to love?

As I rounded a bend
in the rain-slick road on my way into work,
the curtain of moody, slate sky parted momentarily,
revealing twelve-thousand-foot Timponogos
adorned like a bride,
with virgin snow atop
and delicate patterns of frost
extending to where the foothills were shrouded
beneath a soft bank of low-lying mist.
Underneath this veil
the mountain still blushed with the crab-apple hues
of a fleeting autumn that will fade much faster
than it will here, in the valley.

After only a moment the curtain closed,
dousing the brief, fiery spotlight
that shone with such vigor on the scene
and dissolving the view once again
into a uniform pattern of wet road and milky sky.

It may all be gone tomorrow,
and I didn't have a camera.
But still, I just had to share.
So, my Love, there you go.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Wife Rule #117: The Price of Love

Life can certainly throw some interesting curve-balls. There are times when part of the learning that takes place here in mortality involves accepting things that are not at all pleasant to think about; things that would seem to be much better left ignored or buried; ugly things, not of your own choosing, that leave you feeling dirty for them merely having passed through your brain.

Some of these things are so earth-shattering that they momentarily suspend your current view of reality. This can happen with such abruptness that it feels as if you are experiencing one of those moments in a movie where from the protagonist's point of view, everyone and everything suddenly freezes: the person walking in mid-step; the bird in mid-flight; the falling fountain water in mid-air, turning to solid, hovering orbs of crystal. Even molecular motion is suspended and with it, all sense of warmth evaporates. You are left alone with your thoughts, to struggle to make sense of the world around you. Such physics-defying times tend to alter your perceptions of reality, rewriting history and turning your well-set tables upside down.

This of course is disconcerting in its mildest instances, and devastating in its worse forms. You suddenly find yourself questioning everything and everyone and wondering what you can truly count on. You realize that certain assumptions you have harbored for years may have been false. You cease to take anything for granted; everything is suddenly back on the table. You find yourself grasping out into the coldness of space for something--anything--solid to cling to. You feel very vulnerable and very, very small, in a big, wide, unfeeling world that continues mercilessly on without you. You realize that it is not the world that is paralyzed, but you.

And then you latch onto something solid.

For there is truth in this world of ambiguity. There is a source of light, and warmth, and knowledge that permeates the cold emptiness of space with a life-giving sustenance that makes these times endurable. There is a God in heaven, who understands everything we encounter here, for He has been here! He condescended with the express purpose of gathering His own infinite store of such experiences, so that His balm might be perfectly suited to our hours of greatest need. He knows us, for He created us. He is the one who uttered eternal laws into existence, and those laws provide a solid framework upon which rests the universe. There is a cosmic order in the apparent chaos that surrounds us.

He has not left us alone. No matter how deep the hurt, or how tragic the fall, or how bewildering the pain, or how blinding the confusion, there are agents here to help us. There are those who care for us, who pray for us, who are anxious to bless us as His hands on earth.

And even in the times when we truly are alone, He is there personally to nurture us with the Comforter, wrapping us in a warm, hand-made quilt of sufficient scope to completely cover our needs.

I have been blessed with an abundance of such heavenly help. Parents, brothers, sisters, friends, and neighbors all tend to my comfort. And my closest, most personal ministering angel is a thirty-something woman of towering strength. She supports me with a bulwark of faith, hope, and love that lends such buoyancy to my sometimes heavy-laden shoulders, that I know I will never fall with her to back me up. Such is the nature of my companion, whose faithfulness and love stretches into the distant horizon, as apparently infinite as our Savior's love, the source from whence it sprang.

It is Life--with its curve-balls and earth-shattering moments--that proves such love, wringing it out of us, forcing it to flee from the abstract theoretical sphere into the solid realm of real experience. And that, in the end, is a gift worth paying for, even if the price at times seems very high.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Wife Rule #116: I Kid You Not

"I was looking at Dawn today, and I noticed that she has absolutely beautiful eyes," my wife gushed to me recently. "I always knew that Dawn has my eyes," she continued. That's true. People have been telling my wife that so often since Dawn's birth that there was no room for disputing that fact. And then she reached her conclusion: "That means that my eyes are beautiful too!"

No kidding.

How many hundreds of times have I told her that over the last fourteen years? Hasn't she noticed how many times I find myself staring shamelessly into her wide, innocent, eyes? Doesn't she know that looking into her eyes is like being immersed in the deep blue expanse of the sea? Like gazing into the light-filled heavens on a moonless night? Like being warmed by candlelight in winter? Like the visions of color created by sunlight streaming through stained glass cathedral windows? Like being captured and held frozen by such breathtaking beauty that you are rendered utterly helpless? Like beholding incarnate kindness and unbounded grace? Like glimpsing the very wonder of eternity?

Yes, dear. Your eyes.


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wife Rule #115: Find the One

Some of the most powerful learning moments in life come from experiences my wife and I share together. As background, consider what the Savior taught in Luke 15:

4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.
6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
7 I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth....

I have had faith in Jesus Christ since I young. This faith has only grown stronger as life's experiences have worked their lessons on me. I have never considered myself to be one of the "lost sheep." Sure, I'm a sinner, but I have always known the way back; my sins have been out of weakness or pride, not out of ignorance. But last weekend I gained a little bit of insight into how grateful a truly "lost sheep" can be for those who find it and bring it home.

We were in Idaho, to celebrate my wife's sister's wedding with our family. On the morning of the wedding, we were to leave from where we were staying in Idaho Falls about an hour before the wedding, to travel to the Rexburg temple, where the wedding would take place. We both thought we knew the way, having traveled through Rexburg a couple of times in past years. I knew that when we got to the highway, we turned right and drove until we got to Rexburg. What we didn’t realize is that there was more than one possible road to travel.

As we set out, we made the mistake of turning right on the first highway we encountered. We were running just a little behind, and I was driving as fast as I dared. We tried to distract our restless kids by pointing out the beautiful scenery around us: rolling fields of golden hay with forested mountains on either side of the valley. I was a little puzzled when I recognized the Snake River running parallel to the highway, and I wondered why we hadn’t seen any mileage signs for Rexburg yet, but it wasn’t until the road started turning and descended towards the river that I realized--to my horror--that we were on the wrong road.

After verifying our error at a little tourist shop, my wife burst into tears. The wedding was starting in fifteen minutes and we were now thirty minutes out of Idaho Falls, in the wrong direction. We turned around and started back, going faster than ever, but we really didn’t know where we had gone wrong or how to get on the right road. We desperately tried calling my wife's siblings, but we could not hear anything on our cell phone. After several failed attempts to call for help, we realized our phone had been put into headphones mode, probably through random button-pushing by little Charity. We didn’t know how to fix it. We were stuck. It was now 11:00, time for the wedding, and we were still lost. My wife broke into fresh tears.

Then, as an answer to our silent prayers, the phone rang. She tried to answer it, but again, no sound. Then she remembered that there was a speaker phone feature, and by using that, we were able to finally hear the sweet sound of a concerned brother’s voice, calling to find out why we were not with the rest of the family. We knew we were hopelessly too late, since the sealer performing the wedding, the photographer, the luncheon, and the reception all hinged on a tight schedule for the day. Still, we felt a great deal of comfort knowing that the family was aware of our predicament. She told her brother where we were, that we were probably still 45 minutes away from Rexburg, and that they should go on without us and we would eventually find our way there. After heartfelt “I love you’s” from both ends of the phone, she hung up.

Ten minutes later, as we were approaching Idaho Falls, the phone rang again. It was another brother, one who knew the roads, who understood where we had gone wrong, and who was able to give us detailed directions to get us onto the right highway. His step-by-step instructions probably prevented us from getting lost again, we were so frazzled and disoriented by this point. Again, already ten minutes after the wedding start time, my wife asked them to go on without us.

We finally made it onto the correct highway and saw the road signs confirming this. We were about fifteen minutes out of Rexburg when the phone rang again. It was a brother again, checking up on our progress and making sure we knew which exit to take. My wife broke into tears again, and then on the phone came the voice of the sweet, old temple president. He wanted to assure us personally that they would wait to begin until we arrived.

When we got to the temple, all the workers were waiting for us. They ushered our kids into the waiting area and a worker had us run up the back stairway, since that would be faster than the elevator. When we reached the third floor, panting, my wife's sister and her fiance were there, waiting for us with a smile. They embraced their lost sister and brother in a big hug and told us that how glad they were that we had made it and that they never would have gone on without us.

In all, close to “ninety and nine” people waited for almost an hour for us at the temple. The rest of the day we had both old and new family members telling us how glad they were that we made it. This was sometimes mixed with some good-natured ribbing (I got a new nickname: "Tom-Tom"), but never in a resentful way. There was no passing judgment, no rebuke. Our desperation and embarrassment at having been the “lost sheep” gradually melted away to feelings of gratitude and love for those who reached out to us and waited for us, and that in the end, the whole family was together in the temple. We were whole.

My wife and I have talked about this experience a lot over the last week. There are many good analogies that can be drawn from it, but one stands out to us. Every person on earth is a child of God and thus, we are all one big family. God wants nothing more than to gather the whole family together, for eternity. We know that not everyone wants to follow the Savior, but there are many--millions or perhaps even billions--who would gladly gather together with the believers if only there was someone to reach out and show them the way--to gather home the lost sheep. And we need not get overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task--all it takes is finding those who want to be found, one by one.

Find the one.

(I told this story as part of a talk I gave in our church services today. You can read the full text here.)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Wife Rule #114: Get Out

If there’s one thing my wife and I are pretty good at, it’s getting out. I am never one of those guys who is in danger of losing his time off at work because it went unused. We tend to pack our schedule so full of dates, family events, and social events that we are often booked several months out. Though it makes life a little hectic from time to time, it’s a lovely problem to have.

It’s been this way for years. When we were first courting, we never had a problem of getting stuck in a rut because all we knew how to do was “hang out.” When we went out, we went out—on real, premeditated, planned dates. We have continued this tradition with varying degrees of success since our marriage, but for the last several years we have been pretty good about going out together on weekly dates. I look forward to this time alone with my sweetheart all week long. I am convinced that this one-on-one time together has paid huge dividends in our marriage.

However, the times out I probably anticipate most are our vacations. We do a lot of camping and hiking trips with our kids and we have started a tradition of doing an extended family reunion trip. But the vacation that really defines summer—the one that the season would feel incomplete without—is our annual trip to Newport Beach, California.

My wife’s grandpa has a little beach cottage on 33rd Street, and he graciously moves into the upstairs apartment every summer so that his children and grandchildren can use the main house for a week at a time. We have been to Newport Beach every summer that we could since our marriage, only missing the years when we had summer babies and the one year that I was too sick to travel.

Rather than writing up the same old boring journal entries that I always do, this year I decided to compose a poem for every day of our trip to Newport Beach. From the overnight drive south through the arid desert, to celebrating snapshots of some of our favorite things to do while we are here, I tried to capture the essence of our family vacations to Newport Beach in their current form: two parents, five kids, a jam-packed mini-van, plenty of chaos, and memories in the making.

Oh, and because I generally wanted to keep these on the nostalgic positive side (minus the poem for day two-point-five), I completely skipped writing anything about the fourteen-hour drive home. Especially the part where our car started overheating and we turned off the air conditioner while we were at a dead stop for 30 minutes because of the accident, 80 miles out of Las Vegas, in 100-degree heat.

Joshua Tree
(day one)

In the pale, last light
The eccentric silhouette of a Joshua Tree
Rises from the Martian landscape
It’s the first one we’ve seen

The sun sets
The interstate sinks into St. George
The temperature rises

We check in and change
It's late
And we leave early tomorrow
And it's a bit of a hassle
But still, we make time

Bare feet skitter across warm, dark pavement
And tuck themselves neatly underneath
Cannonballs in the dark

The crickets gain momentum
And we wrap up the happy din
In white, warm towels

Bed awaits
Night falls in the desert
It is ripe with anticipation

(day two)

“Are we in California yet?”
No, we still have two states to go
The harsh sun cooks us through tinted windows
Shouldn’t we be farther along than this?

I accelerate
The rubber and tar would surely fuse in this heat
Were it not for the force pushing us forward

Seven bodies descend on the restroom
I’m feeling a little sheepish
Is a two-gallon fill-up enough
To compensate for such swarming?
Although I topped it off
We were nearly full when we pulled in
That’s the problem isn’t it?

What? You have to go again?
No problem
Just hold it ‘till the next town
We’ll be there in an hour

We sit down to another meal
Of gross, greasy food
Merely fuel
We might as well let the kids go down the slide one more time
The booster seat is still drying on top of the car

After three DVD’s
The system stops working
A vital component is no longer functioning:
The listeners

At last we arrive

Rolling down the windows we soak our lungs in humidity
The car is emptied at the beach house with astonishing speed
Clothes are cast aside and damp swimsuits donned

We bound for the beach
An undulating sea of glittering diamonds spreads before us
The afternoon sun stings our eyes
It’s always colder than I remember
But no matter—we dive right in
The refreshing current surrounds us
And the churning sand beneath our toes
Seems to smooth over the entire day

(day two-point-five)

A loud shriek and a pop
A chorus cheering approval
Rattled, I sit up and part the blinds
The yellow circle under the lamppost
Reveals a small horde of swooning men
Attacking a beach ball
With delighted venom

Typical Friday-night revelry
(Last night for the renters)
Freshly-emptied bottles litter the gutter
Where they will still lie tomorrow
Technically, it has been tomorrow for two hours already

Last year they vanquished a young child’s bike,
Riding it repeatedly over the curb and into the lamppost
Only fragments remained

Poor beach ball
At least they left the lamppost out of it

(day three)

We pick our way through
The ruler-straight line
Of jumbled briquette boulders
Jutting into the blue

Golden light gleams from micro pools
Replenished by the breaking surf around us
The roar of a thousand lions
Echoes in our ears

Suspicious crabs creep underfoot
An underhanded wave geysers through the gaps
There is rumbling from depths unseen

Near the end we stop
Our attention tracks the roiling surges
Rolling in succession
Unharnessed energy

We crouch, frozen, and count:
Springing, arms extended
Willing the water to explode
With deafening force at the edge of the jetty

It obeys

My young son smiles
With a backdrop of falling foam
His excited eyes connect with mine
And he utters a single word:

(day four)

Tradition dictates that Sunday afternoon
Takes us across the peninsula
To the harbor

We circle the seaside restaurants and yachts
On the warped, burnt boardwalks
Public easements in an alien world

I cringe
As five pairs of young hands intermittently grasp
Rough-cut handrails peppered with grime
But they must
It’s the only way to get a view

Colonies of jellyfish
Perform their tie-dye dance
White on black
Translucent yin and yang

Two surfers glide in
Cutting the smooth water with Polynesian paddles
The jellies won’t mind
It’s a no-wake zone
And their lazy, random motions
Suggest they are still asleep

(day five)

A five-point parallel parking job
(Only twenty-one inches to spare,
Bumper to bumper)
Just part of life on the peninsula
Where land is premium
With only a few hundred yards
From shore to shore

We crowd the benches of the ferry
Arms length from SUV's
Exactly three will fit
We watch
Yachts with bleached canvas sails
Glide silently through the channel
Graceful ghosts in the twilight

Strolling the island
Past whitewashed gates to private piers
A curving series of proud poles
Fly stars and stripes above
Both the docked and landlocked kind
And millionaire dreams are allowed
To flirt with us
Just for a few moments

The ferry returns
Beneath the Ferris wheel,
A circular structure of old painted wood and clear incandescent bulbs
With neon highlights
As we rise and crest its summit
The lighted angles of the pavilion,
The lamp-lit land,
And the black sea spread before us

We descend with a thrill
Cool air rushes past our ears
We shudder
And repeat
And shudder again
Then cap off the night with frozen bananas

(day six)

The western faces of the dunes
Glow orange in the setting sun
Blue and purple shadows grow behind them,
Yawning eastward
A cataclysmic shaking and rumbling
Followed by pulverizing pounding
As a great bare foot, larger than the mightiest of the monoliths,
Crashes down,
Creating a virgin valley surrounded by a new ring of upheaval
This peculiar geography stretches all the way to the Pacific Ocean
And opposite, to the sidewalk

It is evening at the beach

I watch my wife whip Frisbees back and forth
With three of our children
Twisting, spinning,
She churns them out in a wagon wheel pattern
To the surprise and delight of her progeny
Who, though synchronizing their attacks,
Fail to overwhelm her
I love her ninja powers

My younger two daughters pose for pictures
On their backs
Their mouths ring with laughter
Their heads and freshly-washed hair
Are half-buried in the cool sand

Photos of these precious times burst
With dramatic color
And smiles
And merry memory

Morning Walk
(day seven)

Bare feet
Pajama clad bodies
Buckets in hand
We tread across the packed, wet sand,
Eyes diligently scanning
For Treasure

Cool mist permeates the atmosphere
Beneath a heavy, slate sky
Seal-black surfers
And hunting gulls
Holler at no one in particular:
Soft, white noise
Filtered by the encroaching tide

My youngest, still word-shy, gestures downward
I lower her outstretched little limb
Until she grasps a shiny, oddly-shaped shell fragment
And a handful of soggy sand

She drops it all in the bucket
To keep

She reaches for another
Just then
A rush of warm, white foam
Kisses her extended hand
It leaves as quickly as it came
But provides enough surprise
To elicit a crinkle-nosed smile
So wide
It extends beyond the boundaries
Of her favorite pink binkie

The man with the metal detector approaches
Scanning the sand for treasures of his own

I’ve already got mine

(day eight)

Drops of seawater evaporate
Cooling my skin
The towel and soft sand warm from beneath
The sun bears down from above
And a briny breeze carries the excess,
Along with my thoughts,

I enjoy a half-conscious sensory experience
With the rhythmic roar of the surf,
The cries of the gulls,
And the delighted shrieks of my children in my head
I doze intermittently

It’s been nearly a week
Since I’ve worn a watch

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Wife Rule #113: Appreciate the Miracles

Miracles are funny things. They can serve as powerful witnesses of unseen truths to believing, recognizing eyes. They are also so easily passed over when we are too selfish to discern them, too spoiled and entitled to appreciate them, or just too busy to notice them.

My wife works miracles on a daily basis, and I have noticed recently. We have been extremely busy lately, perhaps so much that instead of taking the miracles she produces for granted, my normally unobservant mind actually crossed a stress threshold where it became plainly obvious that without her miracles, our family would be drowning in a whirlpool of self-imposed chaos.

There was the miracle of the Ice Cream Social, where she exercised the gift of vision to see past the blaring shortcomings of the meager accommodations of space and shade that our front yard offers on a hot Sunday afternoon. As a result, we scooped through nearly twenty quarts of sticky-sweet ice cream to nearly a hundred and fifty happy, chatting guests. Somehow, the space and shade were adequate for the crowd. Even our collapsible canopy miraculously stretched enough to cover perhaps sixty souls as a fierce July Thunderstorm pelted us with hail-size raindrops for five minutes.

Two days later there was the miracle of love and friendship when my wife and the woman across the street realized that one of our favorite neighbor families was moving and had not been formally bid farewell. Despite having just hosted the Ice Cream Social, my wife insisted that we send them off properly. So the same small space of grass and shade miraculously filled again with a hundred and fifty hungry guests, and potluck food appeared as if out of thin air. The entire event was perceived accurately by our departing neighbors as the act of love that it was.

The next week there was the the family reunion, where my wife spent hours spearheading a gathering of five couples and ten children at her childhood home. She had help from other miracle workers who organized menus and prepared food, but the way that five days of meals and nearly non-stop activities proceeded flawlessly can be considered nothing short of miraculous, and a majority of it rode on her shoulders. While I desperately tried to concentrate on the one task of tying up loose ends at work in preparation for the time off, my wife worked her magic. By applying her organizational talents, she caused reservations for Wave Runners on the lake to materialize; food to organize itself, packed in boxes and coolers; laundry to be cleaned and folded and grouped into matching outfits; bags to packed; sleeping arrangements to be finalized; and a detailed agenda to be created with optimal plans to play on the beach, tour the cave, hike to the lake, picnic, play games, and see the town.

After returning yesterday, while I concentrated on the singular task of catching back up at work, miraculously the bags got unpacked, the laundry got done, the dishes got cleaned, and the house returned to a state of order. She somehow did all this while simultaneously setting her able hands to preparing another spectacularly successful birthday party tonight, which included a special, made-to-order birthday meal, including time-consuming homemade rolls; a fancy, multi-layered rainbow cake; long-anticipated, perfect presents; seven additional family guests; and one elated little eight-year-old girl.

And there is more to come.

Thursday there will be a birthday party with friends for this same eight-year-old girl, followed by all the preparations necessary to get our family of five children ready for a summer company party at the local water park. Friday is our almost-six-year-old son's birthday, whose wish list is still being finalized and whose party will involve guests again. Saturday our eight-year-old will be baptized, and we will be hosting family guests for lunch afterwards.

Next week, my wife will bear the brunt of making the preparations for our annual trip to the beach. Then a few days after we get back she will be packing our family up to leave home again so that we can all attend her sister's wedding. A few days after that, our children will begin school, wearing new clothes and with all the needful supplies in hand.

The preparations for all of these important events will take place. All the food will be bought and prepared and presented tastefully; all the presents will materialize, wrapped in brightly-colored paper with artful bows; all the complex nuances of the scheduling will be figured out; all the packing and unpacking and washing and drying and putting away and getting out will occur flawlessly. All this will happen without letting the house or our sanity deteriorate into utter chaos, despite having five children whose self-appointed missions sometimes seem to involve that specific end.

It will all happen. It always does. I will do my best to contribute as much as possible, but we both know that it is really my wife that makes it so. I know she often feels like she is winging it; that the odds are stacked hopelessly against her; that our household teeters on the edge of a steep and swiftly-eroding cliff. But somehow or other, she always manages to pull it off. She applies her mind, her heart, and her able hands. Through sheer grit and genius and the immense talents she possesses, she accomplishes what I could never do without her.

She works miracles.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Wife Rule #112: All Is Well

At two o'clock in the morning I awoke from a dreamless sleep. As my bleary eyes scanned the room, I regained my bearings by identifying outlines of familiar objects in the ambient night light. The closet. The dresser. The door to the darkened hallway, which was still ajar. Yes, I was at home in my own bed, but something wasn't right. I rolled over and sure enough, the other half of the bed was still empty.

I remembered why I felt so anxious. My wife and baby were gone. She had left in a rush about three hours ago, cradling an exhausted, limp child in her arms. Charity had barely been breathing when they left, each slight rise and fall of her tiny chest achieved through wheezing exertion, as if the air flowing in and out were being pumped through a viscous fluid.

My wife took her to the emergency room where Charity was treated with a steroid injection to aid her breathing. They needed to watch her for several hours to see that she was improving before sending her back home. This was the treatment my brother, a physician, had predicted they would give her when he urged us to take her to the emergency room.

When I called him, I had explained that the usual remedies for croup we had used on our other kids weren't working. The humidifier had already been on in her room, and since it was July there was no cool night air to breath in. He agreed that this wasn't something we should handle at home. "Croup can be very serious when infants are involved," he informed us. "This can't wait. You need to get her to the hospital."

Since I had early morning meetings the next day, my wife had volunteered to go, allowing me to stay home with the other four sleeping children. An hour later, at about midnight, she called to let me know what was going on and encouraged me to try to sleep. How was I supposed to do that? Even though Charity was now in the best hands available, my wife sounded anxious. And she is not one to worry unless the worry is merited.

So I wasted some time online, and at last resorted to late night reading until my eyes started to get heavy. I knelt by our bedside for the final time that night at about one o'clock, and asked the Lord to please bless my tiny daughter. Then I climbed under the covers and drifted off into a fitful sleep.

Now, laying on my back in the dark, I could hear Scott wheezing from his bedroom. His breathing problems are minor compared to the frightening, barking frenzy that Charity was in as she had struggled to take in enough air. I exhaled loudly, uttered another silent, semi-desperate prayer, and curled up into my pillow, hoping that the next time I awoke my wife and child would be back here beside me.

My eyes jerked open again. I glanced at the glowing digital clock on the bedside table. It was just after three o'clock. The other half of the bed was still empty.

Charity had awoken right as we were getting ready to call it a night. I heard her crying, but I was trying to finish reading a very important paragraph or something and so it was my wife who had gone into Charity's room to check on her.

When she opened the door, her cries sounded awful, a painful whimpering mixed with sharp barking. We had heard that kind of sound before when our children have had croup, like a baby seal crying. What I failed to notice for a full minute or so, until my wife pointed it out, was that these noises were not created by forced expulsion of air while coughing, as had been the case with our other kids. This barking occurred each time Charity attempted to inhale, which seemed to elevate the problem to a whole different level. And rather than being all worked up, as I had first supposed, Charity seemed strangely incoherent for someone who was struggling so hard to breathe.

My wife and I both fell into semi-panic at the same time. My first reaction was to anoint her with oil, lay my hands on her head, and pronounce a prayer of healing on her, as directed in James 5:14-15:

Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up....

The words that came into my mind as I anointed and prayed over her were more direct than usual, and spilled forth more like commands than requests, ordering her throat and lungs to open up and allow air in. Within thirty seconds of finishing this blessing her breathing had relaxed, the barking had quieted to a softer wheezing, and she had opened her eyes and seemed more alert. We felt that the Lord had granted her safe passage through the immediate crisis, but it was now time to make use of the medical knowledge He had made available. So we had called my brother, and following his advice my wife had taken her to the emergency room.

As I laid in bed and recalled the almost immediate improvement in her condition after anointing and praying for her, the peaceful feelings I had felt at the time returned. My heart surged with gratitude to be privileged to bless my wife and children through the power of the Lord's priesthood, which He has distributed to believing fathers in His latter-day Church, that we might use His power to bless our families in His name.

She's going to be okay, I told myself as I lay in the dark, alone in my thoughts. And I realized that I believed it.

I woke again at four o'clock to the sounds of the door to the garage closing. I heard my wife lay Charity gently in her crib and then join me in the bedroom.

"How is she?" I asked her softly.

"She's doing much better," my wife replied. "The steroid treatments seem to be working and she can breathe again."

"Thank you, honey. Thanks for taking her in. Thanks for staying with her. I'm glad you're back home."

"Me too. Good night."

"Good night."

I closed my eyes for the last short stretch of sleep before the start of another demanding day. I felt whole again. Charity was breathing quietly in the nursery. My wife was next to me, her comforting presence quieting my mind. There was warmth and peace in my heart as I uttered a brief, silent prayer of thanks for the miracles that delivered my family safely back to me: miracles wrought through a combination of faith and prayer and revealed science, and applied by those who so ably administered to my daughter in the middle of the night.

The last thought I recall running through my mind before drifting off were these words: All is well, all is well.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Wife Rule #111: We are Forever

My wife and I recently spent some time together in one of the beautiful temples that our church builds as special places of worship. We hold these buildings sacred, as dedicated houses of the Lord. When we visit them, we come as His guests, seeking to gain communion with Him and learn His will for us. We try to attend the temple together on a regular basis, and we are always rewarded for our efforts.

One of the most worthwhile effects of worshipping in the temple for me is the way that it seems to elevate my thoughts above the transitory, earthy subjects that so often capture my attention. For a few precious hours, my mind is lifted up out of the world, to contemplate things of a much more lasting, permanent import. I am reminded that not only is there a God in heaven, but that He has a plan for us as His children. I am also reminded of the very prominent role my wife plays in God's plan for me.

This most recent evening as we sat in the temple, I found myself quietly thinking about the sheer immensity of God's creations, both in space and time. I contemplated the sobering reality of the never-ending future I will have, in which I will undoubtedly have occasion to think about the choices I make today that are shaping that future. Then I thought of my wife, and the fingers of my right hand found themselves tracing the shape of my wedding band on the ring finger of my left hand. Around and around they went, in a circular pattern that had no natural end. I recalled the words my wife had engraved on the inside of the band:

Together Forever

With such limited space available, it is somewhat amazing to me that such a profound message could be encapsulated in a six-syllable sermon on the inside of my wedding ring. Forever: a word that describes the indescribable. Is it really possible for two people so wholly in love with each other to continue on, like fingers tracing the outline of a circular ring, without an end to their union?

When my wife gave me that band, she gave it as a visible token of the eternal commitment she was making to bind herself to me. The ring I gave her was given with the same intent. And since the day we exchanged rings, we have each tried to live those commitments with our whole hearts, the never-ending circle of our union continuing in an eternal round, but expanding in scope as we grow in our capacities and commitment to each other.

The births of our children have each served as catalysts for sudden expansions of the circumference of our circle. You might think that adding these little souls to our family would cause the circle to change shape, to sprout new starting points of other paths leading in other directions; but in fact, the cyclical shape of our family it retains its integrity as a whole, uninterrupted, sealed entity without any apparent entry or exit--it's just bigger.

Our experiences with our children bear this out. After adjusting to the initial changes that each child brings, we quickly settle into a family routine where it seems unlikely that this child was ever not part of our family; that surely this person was meant to be with us, and of course will continue as part of us, forever.

And so it also feels natural that my wife and I are together. It may sound trite or foolish or fantastic--take your pick--but it feels as though we have always been together. The funny part is, I can remember that it wasn't always this way; we have had--and still have--plenty of spots in our relationship that require smoothing out. But nonetheless, my wife's efforts to harmonize with me have at length resulted in such a natural fit and compliment to my rather strange edges, with my reciprocal efforts fitting around those equally singular edges she must also have, that together we are complete: a whole package; a single, unbroken surface whose synergy covers the barbs and quirks.

It's as if we were meant to be. As if we just are. As if there never was a time when we weren't a part of each other, nor ever will be. Without beginning and without end.

Like a ring.


Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Wife Rule #110: She Still Rules

I just couldn't let the month of June go by without a single post. My wife still rules. I have just been absolutely swamped, and I can't bring myself to post in haste, or it will end up being pathetic, like this post.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Wife Rule #109: Love Mothers

Now there stood by the cross of Jesus his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene.

When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!

Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother! And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home.

After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst.

(John 19:25-28)

If Jesus is our ideal Exemplar in all things, and I testify in my own small way that He is, then this simple story contains a tremendous amount for us to learn about the way we should love, and care for, our mothers.

The scriptural record is incomplete as far as detailing what happened to Joseph, the husband of Jesus' mother Mary. The last we hear of him directly is in the brief description of Jesus' childhood, when he and Mary frantically searched for her missing son and found him in the temple with the learned men of the day. There are passing references to him later on, such as when Jesus' unbelieving neighbors asked "Is not this the carpenter's son?" (Matthew 13:55) In that passage we also learn that Mary and Joseph had several sons and daughters as well, so we know Jesus had brothers and sisters. But Joseph the carpenter doesn't make any further personal appearances in any of the four gospels.

It seems probable that Joseph had died by the time the Savior was suffering on the cross. This would make Jesus' mother Mary a widow, now in the care of her several sons and daughters. Why would the Savior, in His own time of tremendous suffering, with the literal weight of the entire world on his shoulders, be thinking of who would care for his mother after he was gone?

Because He loved her.

Apparently the Savior of mankind thought it important enough to make one of His final acts in mortality the entrusting of his mother's care with a faithful disciple. Not only was John beloved of Jesus, but John had received a singular promise from the only Man on earth able to fulfil it, that he would tarry on this earth until the Savior's return (John 21:20-24).

Peter, James, and the other disciples who were also just as devoted to Jesus' cause would almost certainly be just as capable as John in caring for a still young Mary, but Jesus entrusted his mother's care to the one disciple who He knew would outlive them all. They had been called to eventually die martyr's deaths; John had been called to endure an unnaturally long life. This is the disciple charged to take care of Jesus' mother.

Only after taking care of this very important matter did Jesus know that "all things were now accomplished."

May we follow Jesus' example with the mothers in our lives. There are several in mine. My birth mother has devoted her life to loving and serving her children. My life has been blessed beyond description, including in ways I do not yet fully comprehend, by her labor of love. My mother through marriage gave the same service and devotion to the lives of my wife and her siblings, and now also blesses me personally. My wife is currently following the same pattern, spending her strength and energy giving and enriching the lives of my children, and exalting me as her husband.

One of my mothers already is a widow, like Jesus' mother likely was. The two other mothers I mentioned may someday be widows. Regardless, each of them requires the same kind of thoughtful, loving attention the Savior showed to His mother. This attention and love often doesn't come during times of convenience or ease, but rather, in the midst of the hectic joys and turmoils of life. But it must come.

Love mothers. They are worth it. They deserve it.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Wife Rule #108: My Flesh and Bone

I awoke to the pale, early-morning light seeping through the whitewashed blinds of my bedroom. Through the foggy half-awareness that accompanies the first thoughts of the day, a feeling stood out: something was missing. It felt as if during my sleep a part of me had been removed. Yes, as if some vital part of my body had been taken out and fashioned into another form: a form I desired; a form I was destined--no, was designed--to be with; a piece of me that was exterior to my body, yet yearning to return.

And then all at once the haze lifted from my mind like a dissipating mist and I comprehended what this sense of incompleteness meant. With a smile, I remembered that the resolution was at hand: today was the day I would be united with my bride, our wedding day.

Like the introduction of Eve to Adam by God Himself in the garden, she having been taken out of his very flesh and formed from a rib, today the counterpart of my soul--the person who could complete me and make me whole--would be given to me by her father. The crown of my manhood and jewel of my life was about to bind herself by covenant to me, and I to her.

My stomach was churning--not with unpleasant anxiety like that which precedes a final exam in Calculus, but with a high-energy anticipation of the day's events. Today would be one of those surrealistic days where things long waited for in the abstract realm of inexperience would finally take concrete form, giving new understanding and richness to life. And me and my wife--yes, my wife--would be at the center of it all.

It felt like if I didn't get going right now, my legs might take off running all on their own, cartoon style, leaving my head and torso behind: a fitting tribute to the incompleteness that suddenly seemed so apparent. I showered hurriedly and absentmindedly. I probably remembered to put on deodorant. I do know that I paused for just a minute to make sure my hair was parted in a reasonable position, knowing that in wedding photos even an engineering student should try not to look like a total goober.

I have no idea what I ate for breakfast; eating held no joy for me. During the brief preparation time that morning my mind was focused like a laser beam on a beautiful, young, blond woman, three hours away at her parents' house, who had doubtless been up for hours by now with a hairdresser.

By this time, the morning sun had cleared the foothills and was spilling down the canyon between the high peaks and through windows of this house which would remain my home for only a few more hours. I was ready and willing to give it all up--my youth, my bedroom, my place in this house, my carefree selfishness, all the life and routine I had known before this day--for her.

One thing that did give me pause during my crazed morning rush--and my wife will laugh--was the magnificent view of Mount Olympus out the semicircular window above the staircase. Seeing the familiar brown rock face framed neatly in its picturesque beauty made me wistful for just a moment, knowing I would only see that view as a visitor from now on. I know, I'm a sentimental fool.

My tuxedo was ready, my teeth were brushed, and my morning prayer--undoubtedly short, yet one of the most jubilant of my life--was offered. The rest of my family had joined in the frenzy, and somewhat miraculously we had all arrived on the landing at the top of the stairs at about the same time. We knelt together in a circle, holding hands for the last time as a family of six. We prayed. I requested that we sing, something my family has always enjoyed together. Tears flowed amidst mildly dirty looks at me for suggesting a course of action with such a predictable emotional outcome.

And then we left. My brother joined me in my car, a welcome conversational distraction to help pass the agonizing 90-minute drive to the beautiful, tulip-laden grounds of the Logan temple. This magnificent structure was built by the pioneers that settled the Logan valley and was hewn out of limestone quarried from the canyons of the adjacent Rocky Mountains. It has shape and style elements similar to a grand castle, including towers with battlements, but not the same formidable feeling of a fortress designed to keep intruders out. Instead, the building radiates a soft beauty, a sort of light that beckons you inside, as if the God of Heaven were whispering out of its walls that He anxiously awaits your presence within.

And He was there.

I entered the temple and said goodbye to my family for the last time as a single man. One of the kind attendants pointed me to a comfortable sofa in the main entrance hall where I sat and waited for her to come. I'm not sure how long I was there, as my mind was now caught up in another intense wave of anticipation, and such strong emotions tend to bend and warp time like the gravity of a great star.

I heard her voice. I don't know how to describe it, except to employ the usual cliches: bells ringing, birds singing, angelic choirs, etc. But those all fall miserably flat. It will have to suffice to say that the casual, soft conversation she was having with her mother as she entered the temple was the most beautiful, breathtaking noise my ears had ever taken in. A moment later, she appeared.

She looked stunning! Her hair was done up in an elaborate weave of flaxen gold that shimmered under the lights. She wore a lovely yellow dress that complemented her figure, and as I gazed upon her I felt that I had never seen a more beautiful woman. Since she was not yet wearing her veil, I absorbed the full force of her smile as our eyes connected.

Her face had a look of serene confidence and sublime joy in it, a countenance to match my own. She stood there before me, ready and willing to join herself to me. This was real; it was happening; it was not merely a pleasant dream that I would suddenly wake up from and forever long to sink back into; we were here.

I don't know if it is possible to comprehend the feelings of my heart that morning without understanding how carefully we had waited and prepared for this day. In a world that holds few things sacred, we had kept and preserved our integrity and virtue through an eighteen-month courtship. We kept a constant watch on our emotions and passions so that they would not overcome us. We tried to stay out of situations where we would be driven to overstep sacred bounds. We set up rules. We tightened them up when it became necessary. We carefully monitored not only our actions in relation to each other, but our words and even our thoughts as they crossed the thresholds of our minds. I'll be honest and admit that it sometimes took a tremendous amount of effort. But we did all of this so that we would be worthy to be here, in the House of God, able to stand together with untainted consciences and be joined by His power, in His appointed way. Receiving His blessing required playing by His rules.

She is more than worth it.

Because we had waited and anticipated and prepared so carefully for this day, we arrived that morning with an inner illumination and anticipation far beyond what it might have otherwise been. My conviction is that this sublime joy is reserved only for those who have put their trust in Christ and His purifying power, and join together at the marriage alter with virtue intact--whether it be unaltered from the beginning or restored through His grace, it is the same.

This reservation of rewards is not because God is partial or unfair, but precisely because He is fair, and the laws governing cause and effect are real. These laws are so often viewed in a negative light, as merely a collection of can'ts and shouldn'ts; but I believe the positive side of God's laws are much, much more powerful than their counterparts. The irrevocable results of doing the cans and shoulds were now ours to cherish: here we were together, two people wholly, hopelessly in love, and ready to be joined, never again to part.

She went her way to the bridal dressing room, an ornate space of lights and mirrors where brides change into their wedding dresses and mothers fuss about stray hairs, smooth out imaginary wrinkles, and otherwise dote on their daughters one last time. I went to the groom's lockers, where I was assigned...a locker. But no matter; I didn't have much to prepare. I dressed for the ceremony and went to a special waiting room where an attendant seated me.

My bride arrived a few minutes later, wearing a gorgeous white dress. Her youthful form was wrapped in an elegant blend of lace and pearl beads, the sleeves extending down her slender arms to her wrists and her skirt extending to her feet, her train fastened up at the moment. We smiled and joined hands tightly, grateful that the last moments of our premarital separation were behind us.

The attendant took us up a staircase to the sacred rooms in the temple where husbands and wives are sealed together through the power of God. This sealing power extends not only "as long as we both shall live," but throughout the infinite expanse of time called eternity. Someday, when mortality and the earthly contracts that govern us here are merely distant memories, the eternal marriage of a husband and wife--if they are willing to abide by God's laws governing that marriage--remains in full force, majesty and splendor. It is the ultimate Happily Ever After, where After has no limitations.

The attendant had us stand off in a side room where we could look through the doorway and watch in private as a small stream of friends and loved ones filed into the room where we were about to be wed. Parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, childhood friends and college roommates had all taken a precious day out of their lives to come and celebrate with us. We felt loved and honored beyond measure.

And then came the moment when we were to enter the sacred room ourselves. Holding my bride's warm hand in my suddenly cold one, I escorted her through the beautifully carved doorway and into the room. Our parents sat on either side of the space where we would sit. Our fathers looked serene and our mothers looked like they were about to melt.

A great, magnificent, gold-framed mirror hung directly behind these seats and a matching one hung on the opposite wall behind the seats of the others who had come to witness our wedding. Sitting with her hand in mine, we could look into the parallel mirrors and see our reflection echoed across the room to an infinite depth until the details eventually shrank into a sea of gold and blue-green lines converging on a center point. This symbol of eternity seemed so appropriate with my face next to my wife's, repeated to an endless degree.

The ceremony itself was so special and sacred that I won't write about it here, except to say that when my sweetheart became my wife, my heart was full with every emotion I had ever anticipated. Every moment of self-denial and personal preparation during the last eighteen months, and during all the years before I met her, was more than compensated for in the way I felt, holding her hand for the first time as her husband. We gave ourselves to each other as an unblemished offering in body, mind, and spirit, a gift made possible because of Jesus' offering for us. His boundless love found new expression through us, in His holy house. That day we were bound not only to each other, but also more closely to Him.

One of the guests remarked to my parents that he never remembered seeing two people who looked happier to be married than my wife and I did in the temple that day. I believe him. I can't imagine being more filled with joy than we were then.

My wife gave herself to me completely on our wedding day. She continues to give herself to me freely each and every day that passes. She is even more beautiful and radiant today than she was then--the wealth of her gift only increases with each passing year.

I feel so close to her, like our intertwined lives have completed me these past eleven years. Truly she is now "bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh." She who was "taken out of Man" has returned, never to be parted again (Genesis 2:23).

Thank you so much for joining yourself to me, my love, my eternal companion, my wife.