Thursday, February 26, 2009

Wife Rule #100: Better Late Than Never

Mere prose often seems inadequate to express the highest, most noble feelings of love that a man feels for his wife; this is why store shelves are chock-full of mushy, rose-laden love cards this time of year. So several weeks before Valentine's Day, I started a series of four short, related poems in an attempt to convey to my wife how she has blessed my life and what I anticipate our future to be--a sort of metaphor of our intertwined lives.

Well, attempting to write a poem about feelings that run so deep, and are so primary to my life that they are hard to communicate anyway, takes some time. Certainly more time and effort than the sort of silly stuff I usually write. Thus, Valentine's Day came and went without the completion of my thoughts.

So here, nearly two weeks overdue, are your poems, honey. Better late than never.


Pale cobalt sky of wintry air
dissolves in a halo of pure gold
ascending the horizon; fair
rays of warmth pierce stony cold.
You are here
                               infusing light,
awaking dormant memory.
Rising currents aid to flight
lifting solitude to harmony.


Brilliant, ever-strengthening hues;
shapes cast into stark relief;
heat beats down as shadows fuse
to earth beneath our aching feet.
You are here
                               breathing life.
All nature toils with might and joy
with daylight full, with ardor rife
to live, their fruitful powers employ.


Softly, softly sinks the warmth;
Shadows stretched, distended reach,
reverting back to softening forms
as contrast fades with whispered speech.
You are here
                               in deepening sky.
Nostalgia's glow dims into grey.
Dreams remembered, dreams that died
anticipate a distant day.


New paths, new flight, new starry fields;
unopened channels freed from chains
their application now to yield
new wonders in such lofty planes.
You are here:
                               Eternal flames
together kindled, borne to bear
life and light and love that claims
all Complete, Unending, and Most Fair.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Wife Rule #99: There Aren't Enough Superlatives in the English Language to Describe the Bomb-Diggity Awesomenitude of My Wife

I'm talking about the fish.

But before I explain that, let me just say that being an older brother-in-law to a college student (that's a shout out to you, Chelse!) has really helped me maintain my "hip" vocabulary. You can tell by my use of words like "Bomb-Diggity." Oh yeah, I can throw down some real zingers. I'm still cool.

For instance, I was showing off some of my new words for a few of the other thirty-somethings at work a while back. "So if something is really awesome, you say, 'Dude, that's totally Bomb-dot-com!'" I explained.

"Bomb-dot-com. I've never heard of that," replied my coworker, thinking it over. "But it sounds cool," he added reassuringly.

"Yup, I'm pretty modern," I boasted, sticking out my chest.

Then he inquired, "So if something is only kind of cool, is it like Bomb-dot-org?"

Coolness is just lost on some people.

But back to the fish. And to properly explain the fish, I need to explain about south Maui. You see, when my wife and I took our tenth-anniversary celebratory trip to Hawaii, one of the activities I most anticipated was reliving some of my teenage memories of snorkeling there. There's something truly magical about immersing yourself into the ocean environment, swimming in the fish's territory. And I'm too much of a cheapskate to do SCUBA diving.

So my wife and I have done our research in our little blue Maui guidebook, and are heading down to southern-most tip of the Kihei leg of Maui's roads. South of our condo in Kihei, we pass through the posh resorts of Wailea, towards La Perouse Bay, our destination. We are actually going to skirt around the north side of the bay over the lava flows to a special little hole called "the Aquarium," a little slice of salt-water-tropical-fishy Heaven--a perfect place for a couple of love-struck snorkelers to revel in the beauty of aquatic wonder.

Past the resorts, the road narrows considerably, but we are still in what feels like civilization; lava rock walls line the road as it meanders into a two-hundred-year-old lava flow, the last big hurrah from this island's volcano before abruptly going silent. Multi-million-dollar mansions line the road on either side, a strange juxtaposition with the mobile road-side taco stands that serve their wares out of pickup truck beds or converted Volkswagen Vanagons. Between mansions and taco stands are quaint beaches of surreal pristineness and beauty.

But sand is not our goal; today we're headed for the rocks. As the mansions become sparser the road seems to narrow more, and suddenly I find myself cresting a hill with such a compact curvature that I actually lose sight of the road before me as we pass over the peak. The hood of the Mustang is there, the running horse silhouetted against the blue sky and distant sea, but blacktop has disappeared. At this moment, the strange thought occurs to me that with all the blue here, it's a shame that our car is also blue, but what can you do when the rental agency is all out of red ones?

It's somewhat an act of faith not to slam on the brakes right then and there; after all, this is a fairly winding road. But putting my trust in the engineers not to have combined both a blind hilltop and hairpin curve at once, I continue onward. Like sitting in the back seat of a roller coaster, the car seems to pick up some of the downhill speed a little before I can actually see where we are going. I am relieved at last to see empty road again, snaking out into the desolate lava.

With a few more miles of twists and turns, we at last reach the point where pavement dissolves into a dusty, crushed lava parking lot of sorts at the edge of the bay. We look for a shoulder to park on a few hundred yards back, but there isn't much and I don't consider it wise to do any off-roading on this crushed-Oreo landscape. So we resign ourselves to walking until we can find the break in the barbed wire fence that lines the west side of the road. That's right, the "trail head" to the Aquarium starts at a small break in the barbed wire. That's how most of the activities from the blue book seem to start, but we've never been disappointed yet.

We find our spot, climb through, and start the foot part of our adventure. We hike a hundred yards or so through what looks similar to a Mangrove forest. We have good hiking shoes on here, our fins and snorkels slung across our backs. Out of the woods, the sand disappears and we find ourselves faced with an expanse of rich black lava that is almost completely devoid of life. Two hundred years is a very short time geologically, and this newborn earth hasn't yet reached fertility.

The trail quickly becomes very difficult to track, and we follow several false paths leading to idyllic-looking alcoves where the blue waters touch the black rock and counter-intuitively, seem to merge into an brilliant aquamarine; apparently I need to retake my color-mixing lessons. Schools of brightly colored tropical fish cavort in the shallows, but we resist the temptation to end our journey then and there. I'm not sure we would have regretted it as there looked to be plenty to do in one hole for one morning on Maui, and we would never have known what we missed.

Scrambling over sharp ledges, we find a trail of sorts. The original? Who knows. We're committed to this path now, as progress through the lava is slow and treacherous and we both doubt our ability to backtrack effectively anyway. We pass several brightly-colored inland sinkholes, filled with what appears to be sand and algae. The blue book warns of the legal and practical dangers of investigating these pools of quicksand too closely, so we pass them by.

Up over another slight rise, and we see it; the Aquarium's waters extend about a hundred yards across, most of it enclosed by a lava shelf that serves as a natural wave-break. Despite the alluring blues around the edges and the mysterious black water in the center where the main lava flow drops off suddenly, it takes us several minutes to scout out what seems to be a suitable point of entry. The rocks are very sharp, as our steadying hands have discovered over the course of our hike, and knowing we will have to sit down and wriggle into fins will require some modest accommodations.

We finally locate a four-foot wide alcove that meets a gentle slope in the lava, just wide enough for us to sit down and slip into the blue. When we do, I discover the wonder of seawater on lava rock, for at the precise point where the water hits the rock (it must be low tide), a smooth, shiny, calcite-looking deposit of some sort completely coats the lava, smoothing out its wrinkles and rough edges, giving it the appearance of clusters of yogurt-covered raisins. Besides reflecting the sun's light laterally through the crystal waters, this coating is a mental comfort, as we have risked our shins and knees long enough in getting here and were hoping for a respite once we actually got in the water.

So in we go, and as always in Hawaii, the temperature at the surface is exactly what we hoped for: perfect swimming pool water on a barely-too-hot summer day. The fish seem to like it too, for they surround us in droves. With relatively few visitors to their aquarium, I'm surprised that they seem every bit as unconcerned by our presence as the urban fish do in crowded hangouts like Hanauma Bay on Oahu.

We see fish of every color, shape, and size; there are schools of blue Dori's and many other of Nemo's friends; the ever-lovable Humuhumunukunukuapua'a, or painted trigger fish; and a new favorite, schools of jet-black bat fish. My wife grabs my ankle and I spin around in time to see a sinister eel, glowering at us from its lair.

We venture away from our entry alcove into much wider and deeper waters, and watch colorful acrobats far below us twisting and spinning in space. The mystery, the wildlife, and the other-worldly beauty of this place settle into our brains like a happy hypnosis. It must have been a full two hours later before we finally got out of the water.

So I hope that now you understand part of the appeal of the fish. See, if I had a billion dollars and there was no hunger or poverty or disease or crazy wackos with nukes to worry about, I could see myself building a mansion with a three-story high integrated saltwater aquarium whose tentacles would stretch into the walls of most of the rooms with central nervous system prominence. I would dive and explore and love my little fishies, and keep a full-time marine biologist on hand to keep them happy.

But unfortunately, I don't have a billion dollars, and the world still needs saving, so there's no such fish tank in my future. But my wife graciously agreed to bend a little on her decorating scheme, and we are trying a ten-gallon freshwater tank in the family room. The kids love it and think we have a real pet now. This should hold off the need for a dog for at least another six months.

We had goldfish to start with, while the tank "cycled" in preparation for keeper fish. As of yesterday, I finally have the first batch of permanent fish in my own little slice of domestic aquatic paradise: six cute, little, brightly-colored Neons. I named them all Dave.

So back to superlatives, any woman who will not only traverse treacherous lava flows in pursuit of better snorkeling, but also willingly welcome a fish tank into her living space, totally rules, rocks, and is so gnarlishly wicked-awesome that Bomb-Diggity or Bomb-dot-com don't even really come close. There really aren't enough superlatives in the English language to describe her, but luckily I've still got time to invent some.

Maybe the Daves will help.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Wife Rule #98: Don't Be Stupid

Believe me. I've tried it both ways. Being stupid usually doesn't work out so well.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Wife Rule #97: She'll Love You Forever

It's been a while since I've railed against consumerism making banal what could otherwise be something truly special. But before I start, let's be honest: Valentine's Day has been a big commercial racket for a long, long time. There's a whole industry built around guilting clueless guys into dropping big coin to purchase random objects to shower upon their women, in order to win their affections. Kind of like the half-chewed pieces of mouse and lizard our cat used to cough up on our front porch for us. Delightful.

So it shouldn't have surprised me when I got the following urgent message in my e-mail inbox this morning:

[Big Box Store Name in BOLD LETTERS]


Have you ordered her flowers yet? [written in curly script that looks kind of feminish]

Yada Yada offer details, something about $64.99 DELIVERED

WHAT? $64.99 on a bunch of crummy flowers that will be dead in a week? You've got to be KIDDING! [not in the e-mail]

She'll love you forever! [written in the same curly, scrapbooky script]

[end of urgent message]

Now, I'm a firm believer in buying my woman flowers from time to time, and I don't do it nearly often enough.

But I suppose what I take issue with is the final sales pitch, She'll love you forever. We men want to believe this appealing lie so badly that just hearing it said, no matter the source, is usually enough to get us to spend the money, take the item home, and win the big smile and the kiss from The Honey. But it's still a lie.

Because you and I both know that those crummy flowers will be dead in a week, tossed in the trash can, and your wife will be expecting you to take out the trash. And pick up your socks.

Store-bought bliss never lasts.

So with that rant behind me, I do believe there is a way for you to kindle the sparks of romance this Valentine's Day that will help your wife want to love you forever. In fact, I am bold enough to protest that there is really only one rule that you need to follow to yield these magical results:

Treat your woman like a daughter of God.

For in fact, she is a daughter of God. It doesn't matter whether or not you believe it; it doesn't even matter whether she believes it, or acts like it; it is still true.

So how do you treat a daughter of God? If you have a daughter of your own, imagine how you would want her to be treated. If you don't, then imagine how you would want your mother, or sister, or some woman that you truly love and respect to be treated.

Now multiply that level of treatment by a million.

I'm sure that's still far short of any accurate measure of how our Father in Heaven feels about His daughters, but you start to get the idea.

Treat her with respect. Treat her with dignity. Treat her with deference. Treat her with unselfishness. Treat her with affection. Talk to her. Listen to her. Serve her. Figure out what makes her feel loved, and do it. Repeatedly.

If it's flowers, then give them to her, but not because they will make her love you forever. Give them to her because you love her forever.

In short, treat her like royalty, all the time, every day of her life. She is royalty. She is the daughter of a King.

And if you do that, she just might love you forever back.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wife Rule #96: Guard the Boundaries

Much has been said in recent years of the importance of securing our borders, for whatever crosses the borders of a nation eventually affects the people within.

It's the same way in a marriage. I like to think of our marriage as a kingdom--a sovereign nation--that my wife and I are building together. And as the king and queen in our kingdom, we each have specific responsibilities to make our kingdom strong and secure. Some of my most important responsibilities are to secure the borders, the boundaries that define our kingdom. With these boundaries firmly in place, my wife can have absolute confidence in the safety of our marriage, no matter what condition the world around us is in. These boundaries are there to protect her.

I will mention four such defining boundaries. Each is a sacred, integral part of our kingdom. Each requires a constant patrol of vigilance. Each must never be crossed, for without boundaries, a kingdom loses its power, identity, and security, and will ultimately fall.


First and foremost, fidelity is essential in our kingdom. How could my wife and I build a strong marriage without complete trust in each other? To attempt to do so would be like constructing a building without a foundation. It could stand for a while as a facade of strength, but ultimately would always fall down.

When we joined together, all outside romantic associations ended. There must be no lingering thoughts of others, no longing for a different life, known or unknown. There must be no flirtations with anything which would undermine our marriage, whether in the form of persons, pictures, or printed word. Though the world bombards us with titillating invitations, fidelity demands that we deny indulgence in any behavior that would cause our hearts to wander from the one we promised God we would love; that we reserve certain sacred aspects of our selves for each other alone.

By consciously focusing on closing the boundary of fidelity water-tight, we ensure that no foreign influence will come between us and cause a rift in our sacred union. "What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6).

How beautiful and rare and sublimely satisfying is the intimate, loving relationship of complete fidelity that my wife and I share. It is sacred--it is precious--it is off-limits to the world--because God ordained it so and we work to make it so.


The boundary of civility ensures that we reserve our very best behavior for each other. After all, there is no one on earth more important for me to impress than my wife. Shouldn't I reserve my very kindest words, my most sincere compliments, my best manners, my most earnest exertions of self-restraint and meekness, for my queen and partner?

As the one person who sees the complete picture of who I am, up close, warts and all, I owe her my very best efforts to be a person worthy of her affections. So make the bed; wash the shower; thank her for dinner; kiss her goodbye; call her at lunch; tell her I miss her; tell her she makes all the difference in my life. In short, show her the courtesies and affections and honors that I would want to be shown to me.

"Nevertheless let every one of you in particular so love his wife even as himself; and the wife see that she reverence her husband" (Ephesians 5:33).


Protecting the boundary of dignity includes shielding my wife from the ridicule of the world. There are plenty of people in the world who will never appreciate the true beauty and nobility of a person such as my wife. The world in large part issues judgments based on face-value facades, on glittering exteriors, and on flashy accomplishments that are ultimately unimportant, thus undermining and ignoring the true potential of the souls of God's precious children.

When this fallen world encounters an other-worldly angel such as my wife--whose visible exterior radiates with beauty born of virtue, and thus stands out from the world--its typical reaction is one of confusion. The world doesn't understand what it has never experienced, so it's reaction is to fear, to mock, to tear down, to attempt to strip the immortal soul of its dignity in whatever way it can.

My job as a guardian of her dignity--and the dignity of our kingdom together--is to reinforce to her the divine value that her chosen path of other-worldly peculiarity bestows upon her. She has never sought after the honors that the world bestows; she has always chosen priorities that place her on a plane above, and I honor her for that. I honor her for choosing God's way over man's ways.

"The world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world" (John 17:14).

And in addition to shielding her from the ridicule of an uncomprehending world, my own conduct towards my wife must always, always be calculated to maintain her dignity. For example, I must never try to lift myself up with a laugh at her expense. I must never assume a posture of talking down to her. I must never do or say anything that would cause her regret, or pain, or shame, in any way. She should feel perfectly safe with me.


Last of all, the boundary of integrity means that I am the man my wife believes me to be. She can take my words and actions at face value. She can trust that I mean what I say, and I do what I know to be right. She can believe me when I say I love her. She can trust that her life and soul, which she has freely given to me, are in good hands that would never intentionally hurt her.

Integrity doesn't imply perfection, but it is my most earnest attempt to be true to myself. And when I can look the man in the mirror in the eye without feeling ashamed, then I am prepared to love my wife with a pure and honest heart. I am prepared to guard all the other boundaries of our kingdom.

As Job said, though others encouraged him to curse God and die because of his hardships, "till I die I will not remove mine integrity from me" (Job 27:5).

These four boundaries: Fidelity, Civility, Dignity, and Integrity, make up the borders of our kingdom. With them firmly in place, there is no room for doubt, for fear, for suspicion, for shame, or for decay in our marriage. These boundaries, when shored up through mutual faith, love, and effort, become an impenetrable, armored wall that encloses us in a fortress where peace, love, and harmony can abide in the constant presence of the Spirit of the Lord.

And that's the type of kingdom that can endure forever.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Wife Rule #95: It's a Good Day

You would think that any day where I get to show up late for work on account of an important appointment that involves eating donuts and reading stories about pirates would be a pretty good day.

And indeed, it should be. "Daddies and Donuts" is a little program sponsored by our elementary school's PTA where once a year, the dads all converge on the school to read books for an hour and eat a donut with their kids. Of course in my case, I have to split my time between Dawn, Rachel, and Scott, so they each only get me for twenty minutes. It's unfair that there's so little of me to go around.

But on the upside, I get three donuts.

So you may be surprised that when the long-anticipated Daddies and Donuts day finally came, I wasn't in the best of spirits. There was nothing wrong with that particular day, it's just that I had been a little down for a while, for a number of reasons too boring and personal to mention here. However, there was unanticipated goodness in store for me today. And I'm not talking about finding colored sprinkles when I only expected plain glazed, either.

Dawn and Rachel went to school at their normal time and I worked an hour from home so I could drive Scott to Kindergarten just in time for the blessed event to begin. As we made the 90-second trek from our home to the elementary school, Scott chattered happily from the back seat of my car. I honestly wasn't paying attention too closely, but my ears perked up when he enthusiastically exclaimed, "Dad, this is going to be a great day, huh!"

Those words caught my attention and caused me to wonder what was going on today that had Scott so excited. Did he have any big plans after school? Not that I knew of. No soccer practice until spring. There was nothing special I could think of, except this one little thing: that his Daddy was coming to spend twenty minutes with him, reading books about pirates and snakes and dinosaurs, and eating a donut. Was that enough to merit a full day's excitement, to deem this a great day?

Maybe so.

Then it dawned on me that my precious son was expressing in his own way that twenty minutes with Daddy was still a Big Deal to him. He may not have been thinking it, but his words were saying, "Daddy, I love you!"

My heart surged with affection for this rough-and-tumble little boy who is such a big, big part of my life, and he taught me.

He taught me that life's joys come not from the removal of big road blocks or the resolution of major problems, but from little moments of reward along the way. He taught me that I already had all the reasons I needed to overcome the doldrums I had been wallowing in for the last couple of weeks. I had reason enough to be filled with joy and optimism about that day--and the rest of my life--sitting in the back seat of my car, complete with unruly blond hair, pure blue eyes, and a backpack that was still just a little too big for him.

He caused me to reflect that I had even more reasons to be grateful waiting for me in other places: two already at the elementary school, three more at home, others across the street or across town, and a limitless supply in my own mind, where a thousand memories of happy occasions with family and friends still reside, vibrant with life and the promise of more joys to come.

Scott's attitude seemed to perfectly reflect the sentiments expressed in the following:

"Both abundance and lack exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities.... When we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that's present...the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth." Sarah Ban Breathnach, in John Cook, comp., The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd ed. (2007), 342.

We parked and nearly skipped, hand in hand, to Scott's classroom, our pace barely able to keep up with our enthusiasm. We read. We laughed. We ate. All too soon I had to move on to the next class. I hugged him and told him that I loved him as I left his classroom.

After three years of hearing about Daddies and Donuts from his older sisters, I wondered if it had been everything Scott hoped it would be. I thought about my son more than usual that day at work. I smiled when I remembered his words and what he taught me. I hoped that I had somehow fulfilled his expectations, that my brief presence with him that morning had lifted his spirits, as he had mine.

When I pulled into the garage that evening, Scott was there in the doorway to greet me.

"Today was a fun day, huh Dad!" he exclaimed as he hugged me, the potency of his enthusiasm fully intact, seven hours after our twenty minutes of together time.

Yes, son, it was a fun day. It was a great day. You made it special. You made it a little like heaven on earth.

And son, I love you too.