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