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.