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.