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.