Sunday, December 11, 2011

Wife Rule #159: Celebrate the Holidays

A great many things have happened to our family during the past year: Summer learned to crawl, walk, talk, and push Daddy around like putty in her tiny hands; we took our first family vacation to Disneyland and Charity learned that Tinkerbell is the scientific force behind all fireworks; we traveled to Newport Beach for my wife's beloved grandpa's funeral; we helped organize a surprise anniversary celebration and reception for my parents; Andrew started Kindergarten; Scott was baptized; Rachel and Dawn learned to ski with--and notwithstanding--the instructions of their father (lesson one: how to fall down); we sunk several grand into our first adventure with orthodontics; we survived the weekly activity schedule of six children, including Cub Scouts, Activity Days, ballroom dance, the school play, soccer, piano lessons, chores, homework, poopy diapers, and play time together; we said goodbye to and lost my beloved grandma; and we helped my parents stage their home, pack it up, move, unpack, and "try out" their new swimming pool no less than a dozen times. Just to name a few.

Yet with all this hustle and bustle, with all this activity and running back and forth, with the greetings and partings, with the ups and downs, "there is one thing which is of more importance than they all" (Alma 7:7).

Our family was challenged this year by our church leaders to study the life, teachings, and atonement of the Savior Jesus Christ. We made it a goal to read the first five books of the New Testament--Matthew through Acts. It took us over 10 months of daily effort, but we finally finished. As we read together each morning, a beautiful story unfolded before us, again and again with each new writer: a baby whose birth was announced by heavenly messengers; wonderful parents who protected and loved the child through heaven-sent help, against all odds; an obedient child who taught His parents and others in the temple; the stirring testimony of John and the beginning of public ministry; the equally compelling private ministry among those who believed; the miracles that were witnessed by many but understood by only the faithful; the gentle teaching, the lifting, the comforting, the helping, the healing; a Man who loved perfectly and came to be loved by the faithful few who would ignore the doubts, jeers, mocking, and scoffing of the crowd; the careful preparation of beloved disciples to carry on the work after His departure; the bravery and agony of infinite atonement, followed by the welcome release of death; the miracle of resurrection and new life and hope offered to all; the majesty of heavenly ascension and the promise of return; the charge to take the message to the world, and the assurance of His presence and guidance in the acts of those willing to take up the charge.

All these were laid before us in splendid, powerful prose. The testimonies of those eye-witnesses still rings true with relevance in our lives today. It is because of that baby--because of Him--that we have peace in this world and hope for a better world. His plan for us imbues day-to-day life with meaning, providing context for the schedules and comfort in the hard times. Because of Him, we recognize the precious value of a human soul and work hard to allow our children opportunities to learn and grow. Because of Him, we hope to remain a family forever, influencing the way we deal with the Big Stuff like death, as well as how treat each other in even the smallest of daily interactions. Because of His example, we serve. Because of His grace, we endure, we pray, and we hope for deliverance from sickness, from pain, from disappointment, and even from death. Because of Him, the trials in life are not insurmountable walls to block us, nor bottomless pits to ensnare us, but stepping stones to help propel us to a better, higher place.

Truly, "He is the light and the life of the world; yea, a light that is endless, that can never be darkened; yea, and also a life which is endless, that there can be no more death." (Mosiah 16:9)

In this season of thanksgiving and celebration, we testify of Him--that He lives and loves us and will come again. He is the Giver of all good gifts. We owe Him gratitude for our faith, our families, the peace we find today, and our hope for the future. The babe born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago remains relevant and resplendent in our lives today: He is the Comforter and Counselor, the King of kings and Lord of Lords, the Savior and Redeemer of us all.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wife Rule #158: Find the Treasures - III

Today was a great day, a true treasure.

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we baptize our children when they have reached the age of accountability--in other words, they should be old enough to have a firm grasp on the difference between right and wrong, and understand the commitment they are making to God when they are baptized. My third child and oldest son has reached this age and was baptized today.

It's a sweet and tender thing to take a child this age--only eight years old--and see him make a conscious choice to devote his life to following Jesus Christ. His faith is so simple and pure--he still takes most of what I say at face value, without question--yet he is also beginning to mature and peek into the deeper layers of life that escape the notice of younger children.

The baptismal service was beautiful. Grandmothers gave the opening and closing prayers. Aunts played the piano and led the singing. My daughter, his big sister, gave a brief, well-prepared message about being baptized. A beloved grandfather gave a thoughtful talk about receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost and the lifelong quest we have to hone and perfect the skill of listening to His guidance and direction.

In the middle of it all was a musical number, which I foolishly thought would be nice to have performed by our immediate family. So my wife and I and our six children stood in front of the grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and started to sing "Families Can Be Together Forever" and my eyes started running like a faucet halfway into the first line and never stopped. My contribution to the song was a complete, mushy mess. Thankfully, the older kids kept the tune going along as my wife and I were having a hard time holding a steady note.

Since there is a lay priesthood (no professional clergy) in our church, I was able to baptize my son. Distributing the priesthood authority to perform ordinances to the fathers of the church is truly a wonderful thing--a miracle--that puts into the hands of a common man like me the responsibility and privilege of representing the Savior in blessing God's children. What a wonderful, hands-on tutorial about how to be a father!

As we changed back into dry clothes, we chatted about the experience. My son said how happy he felt and what a great day this was. I explained that the happy, warm, good feelings that confirmed his decision to be baptized came from the Holy Ghost. My emotions were still at surface level, and I told him through more tears how much these special days mean in my life--how days like today were the happiest times I have ever had.

When we finished changing, my father and brother and brothers-in-law joined me in a circle to confirm my son a member of the church of Jesus Christ, and to bestow upon him the gift of the Holy Ghost. What a wonderful privilege it was to convey this most precious gift upon a pure child, newly baptized and such an open book for the precious truths that can only be taught by the Lord's Spirit.

My wife was asked to say a few words, and shared her feelings--through tears--about what a wonderful step this is in our son's life and what a happy day it was.

After the service, our family gathered at our home for refreshments. Our son was beaming. I was beaming. My wife was beaming. Grandparents and aunts and uncles were happy. Some had driven four hours or more to be there, and had a long journey ahead of them. Some had extended their vacations to be there, delaying the 10-hour drive home far into the night in order to attend. Some had come after being up all night long at a doctor's office. Some had dressed their children in their Sunday best on a sunny, Saturday afternoon, and driven across town to attend a meeting when there were a million other things to do. Some had brought goodies to share. All had rearranged their busy schedules and taken time out of their hectic lives to come and celebrate with us.

This, truly, was family--the full, splendid meaning of the sacred word demonstrated, with every positive facet of familial love on display. My wife and I finished the day with an overwhelming sense of fullness. The gratitude we feel for these loved ones--who shower us with support, who give to us their precious time, and who come to celebrate this seminal moment with us, all the while with huge smiles on their faces and genuine joy in sharing life with us--is beyond what I can write. I can only attempt to sum it up by restating the hopeful words of the song I blubbered through earlier today:

I have a family here on earth.
They are so good to me.
I want to share my life with them
Through all eternity.
Families can be together forever
Through Heavenly Father's plan.
I always want to be
With my own family
And the Lord has shown me how I can.

On days like today, it's obvious that anything less than forever just wouldn't be enough.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Wife Rule #157: Find the Treasures - II

Another recent treasure:

On our way home from our weekly date, as we approached our neighborhood, on a whim I pulled off the road into the parking lot for a small walking path that runs along the edge of the golf course and follows the river towards the canyon. Though we have jogged and biked along alternate paths through this general area, this was our first time along this particular stretch.

It was already past sunset. The cool blueness of dusk enveloped the landscape, the long shadows of the valley having long since merged into the mountainside. Only the tops of the peaks still glowed in the last yellow light of the day.

The earth around us was suspended in a hushed stillness. The low, rolling hills of field grass and wildflowers between the path and the groomed lawns of the golf course only occasionally murmured, when a lone bit of breeze wandered through the valley. The marsh grass and cattails surrounding the ponds betrayed no movement.

We strolled through this mesmerizing scene, noting the various landscaping features we admired in the backyards of the homes that bordered the path. Cheerful, yellow light spilled out from some of the windows of the homes. A few children scrambled past us, engaged in an early night game. A few residents sat, enjoying the beauty from their patios. We exchanged waves of hello with them as we passed.

My wife's fingers tightened around mine as we made our way up the path. We walked clear to the end before turning around. Her eyes shone with peaceful joy as we chatted softly about the homes, the yards, the grass, the flowers, the canyon, the mountains, and of course, our children.

Our younger children were safe at home, already in their beds, in the care of our oldest daughters. The darkness deepened, signaling our time to return home. The whole walk had only been maybe thirty minutes, but even so, we hadn't done anything spontaneous like this little diversion in what seemed like a long, long time. But now that there wasn't a sitter to send home and a schedule to stick to, we had a whole, new world of options open to us.

This built-in babysitter thing is a game-changer. That day was a good day.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Wife Rule #156: Find the Treasures

Life seems to increase in difficulty, complexity, and pace all simultaneously. Unfortunately, during the times when my wife most needs to hear sweet words of affirmation and when I most need to write them, life doesn't seem to allow time to jot them down. It has been this way for the past several months, as various Wife Rules have floated into and back out of my head without ever lodging long enough to write down.

So what is a man to do when his time in the sun is up and he's sent into the dark of the mines? Dig for treasure, of course. And it's always there to be found, no matter how much dirt has to be moved to get to it. I've been reminded recently that life's treasures only increase in value the deeper into the mines we go. Or in other words, the harder life gets, the more precious those gems become.

I'll attempt to catalog just a few of the treasures I've enjoyed the past several months, since I haven't been finding time to regularly write My Wife Rules.


The sun had sunk in the west, leaving behind a canvas of Carribean blue that bled into black as my eyes scanned upward, searching for stars. I have long referred to this particular pallete of colors as a "Disney Sky," because this is how the skies are always painted in the Disney cartoon movies--especially during the parts where the princess and prince fall in love. Think of the way the sky looked during Aladdin's carpet ride with Jasmin, or Belle's dance with the Beast.

As the sky slowly darkened, the lights of the attractions at California Advanture park became more punctuated. I watched the trains round the loops of the California Screamin' roller coaster in time with the shrill soundtrack of delighted riders. The giant outline of Mickey Mouse shone brightly on the Ferris Wheel as the cars swayed lazily in the night. The black lagoon reflected the lights, and the breeze was stuffed with the smell of water and grease and sugar.

I sat alone on the terrace with Summer--alone because my wife had taken advantage of the short line on the new Little Mermaid ride to entertain the five older kids while we waited for the World of Color show to start. I remained behind with the baby to reserve our spot, which was marked by a couple of blankets and a stroller that had managed to keep just a bit of space free from the crowds of thousands of other enthusiastic park goers who were also waiting the remaining 30 minutes for the musical and visual spectacular.

Speakers from somewhere behind us had been playing pleasant instrumental music all evening, and as I bounced Summer on my knee, the familiar melody of Stardust began. The high strings sang out the lines I had so often repeated to my babies as I rocked them to sleep:

And now the purple dusk of twilight time
steals across the meadow of my heart
High up in the sky the little stars climb
Always reminding me that we're apart...

Ooooh, this was perfect. Perfect setting, perfect music, and the perfect little girl to sing to. I turned Summer around so I could look her directly in the eye. She smiled back at me through slurping lips full of chubby little fingers as I sang along in my best Nat King Cole voice:

Sometimes I wonder how I spent
the lonely night dreaming of a song
The melody haunts my memory
and I am once again with you
When our love was new
and each kiss an inspiration...

I leaned in and rubbed noses with Summer, eliciting a delighted squirm with squinted eyes and outstretched arms. I finished her off with a kiss, right on the mouth.

But that was long ago and now my consolation
is in the stardust of a song
Beside the garden wall, when stars are bright,
You are in my arms
The nightingale tells his fairy-tale
of paradise where roses bloom...

Some paradise, like this place. Here I was, surrounded by gardens and flowers and pleasant sights and sounds and smells, and sharing it all with my little princess, under a Disney sky. I was definitely falling in love.

Though I dream in vain
in my heart it always will remain
my Stardust melody,
the memory of love's refrain.

As I finished singing the closing lines, we rubbed noses again, eliciting another Summer smile. As I drew back my head, she reached out to touch my face. I caught her fingers in my mouth and kissed them.

I was called back from my trance by the presence of a sweet older woman who must have been sitting next to me the whole time, but who had faded into non-existence along with the rest of the crowd during my serenade.

"That was beautiful. I didn't know anyone knew the words to that song anymore," she remarked.

"It's one of my favorites," I replied. "It has such a nice melody--perfect for a lullaby."

"I wish I had my video camera for that," she sighed. "That was so sweet. They grow up so fast, you know."

I know. I know. Times like these fade too quickly into the twilight of the changing sky, just like stardust. My oldest is already over half raised, and I'm just barely beginning to figure out how to be a dad.

My wife and the other five kids appeared, wearing wide grins and chattering about the events of the day. It was suddenly noisy, but it was also so good to have them back, to be a whole family, together again. I returned fully into the crowded setting as we reshuffled our positions and tried to arrange seating for the show.

Times like these are what being a dad is all about. Today was a good day.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Wife Rule #155: Thanks

Okay, this is not really a Wife Rule. But I don't ever post on my other blog and thus I'm sure no one reads it, and I think these thoughts are really worth reading. So I'm posting them here.

For Memorial Day I want to share a brief presentation I prepared for my daughter's 5th grade class about my grandfather's service in World War II. It is a few of my explanatory words mixed in with some excerpts from his autobiography (whose pages I hastily photographed since I could not get an acceptable scan due to the way the book was bound). I hope you find this as interesting as I did, and that it serves to remind us why we celebrate Memorial Day and honor those who served our country.

* * *

My Grandfather served in World War II as a chaplain in the Army. A chaplain is a representative from a church who serves in the Army to provide religious support for the soldiers. My grandfather served in the Army for many years and was a full Colonel when he retired-only one rank lower than a general, the highest rank in the Army. He was in charge of all the chaplains in his division, which had several thousand soldiers in it. He was one of the first three Mormon chaplains in the U.S. Army.

As a chaplain, he was not a fighting soldier-he wasn't supposed to have a gun, although he learned to keep one on hand, since, as he said, the enemy didn't seem to care that he wasn't a fighting soldier-they would shoot at him with or without a gun.

Even though he belonged to a specific religion, he served soldiers from many different religions-that's how chaplains often worked. He conducted Sunday worship services, held funerals, and provided counseling for the soldiers wherever they went. He served with his division of solders through several different battle campaigns in World War II. He served in the Pacific War, starting in Alaska, then down in many of the islands of the South Pacific, and ending up in Okinawa, Japan. Most of the enemy he fought were Japanese.

My grandpa recorded many stories from his service in World War II in an autobiography he wrote when I was a young boy. I'll read some of his own words about his first assignment after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and forced the United States into the war.

"Tokyo Rose" was the name given to several Japanese women, who would do radio broadcasts in English, and tell about the American army's plans. They did this on purpose, so that the Americans would know the Japanese knew about their plans and feel discouraged and lose hope of a surprise attack. This is called Propaganda-the art of using words as a weapon in a war to influence what people thought and how people felt. It worked well. Back to my grandpa's story:

Propaganda was also used by the Americans on the Americans. Here's an example my Grandpa wrote about:

Attu is an island on the far end of the Aleutian island chain that comes off of Alaska. It is very cold there-the ground is rock and tundra. My grandpa describes the first battle as the Americans reached the island:

They had been training to fight in Africa, and their assignment was changed to Alaska at the last minute.

So despite their best preparations, things don't usually go according to plan in a war. Here's another example of a problem they had:

As the division chaplain, one of my grandpa's duties was to arrange for burial and hold funeral services. Here's what he said about this as the Battle of Attu continued.

A chaplain's work is not only for the soldiers, but also for their families. My grandpa wrote hundreds of letters to the "next of kin," or the surviving family of soldiers who were killed.

Even though Chaplains were not fighting soldiers, they performed a very important service and many were true heroes. My grandpa wrote about one chaplain he knew who was given a medal for his heroic efforts to help the soldiers he served:

Sometimes in war we think that all of our enemies are evil and deserve death. After all, the U.S. army used propaganda to try to make the American soldiers believe this and hate the Japanese enemy. Yet, there were times even during battle, when they were reminded that we are all part of the human family and what a shame it is that we were fighting each other. Here's an example:

Realizing that we are not all that different from our enemies can help us reach out in kindness like the chaplain who made the effort to return the book to the soldier's father. The Japanese and Americans have been able to forgive each other and are no longer enemies, but have been close friends and allies since World War II.

Here is my grandpa's summary of the total casualties in the battle of Attu:

Finally, as an illustration of why our brave soldiers fight in wars in the first place, here is a story from my Grandpa's time he served during the battle at Kwajalein, a tiny island in the South Pacific:

He goes on to explain that the battle lasted five days and they killed 5000 enemy soldiers, losing 150 Americans in the fight. This battle destroyed many of the homes of the natives people living on Kwajalein.

Our brave soldiers fight for freedom-not just for our freedom, but for the freedom of good people all over the world. They fight for the freedom to worship as we choose, the freedom to work, the freedom to play, the freedom to marry and have families, and the freedom to live in peace. I am proud to have relatives who served our country in World War II.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Wife Rule #154: Why I Am Grateful For the Resurrection

It seems a little strange to be writing an Easter-themed Wife Rule after Easter is over, but perhaps the timing goes better with my thoughts anyway.

Easter is a celebration of life--new life--that comes to the world as a direct result of Jesus' resurrection. When He voluntarily gave His life and then took it up again early on the morning of the third day, He broke the bands of death for all mankind. All that have ever lived will likewise be resurrected, thanks to this free gift He provides.

As I awoke this morning and looked across the bed at the peaceful, beautiful face of my beloved wife, her eyes still closed in restful repose, my mind flooded with thoughts of how blessed I am because she is in my life. I have known such beauty, such meaning, such purpose, such joy as I never could have known without her. She is shelter when the world seems cold. She is comfort when the world seems unfeeling. She is escape when the world seems overwhelming. In a sense, she is my world--my true world--for she is the embodiment of my fondest hopes and my deepest love, independent and unfettered by the rest of the world. She truly has given me a little bit of heaven on earth.

The words of Paul about the resurrection seem appropriate here:

"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Corinthians 15:19).

Having tasted such sweetness in marriage as I have, I can attest how pathetic--how miserable--it would be if the joy and hope my wife and I share were all in vain because of the looming and inescapable specter of Death. How unbearable it would be to once feel the warm embrace of true, selfless love, only to have it crumble to dust in our arms. How cruel a plan it would be to tease us with such joy, only to pluck it out of our grasping hands. How tragic it would be if we were all like Shakespeare's lovers, star-crossed and destined to die prematurely when viewed in light of a love whose strength could have--and should have--lasted forever!

If I could plan our inevitable end, my wife and I would grow old together, wrinkly and gray and still holding hands, until our time was up--and then we would lie down peacefully and exit this world together. Most likely, it will not turn out that way--it seldom does. One or the other of us will likely have to endure the painful, lonely pangs of loss that true lovers feel: that half-dead grayness that seems to shroud the very light of life in a veil of perpetual sorrow.

And yet, through the haze and gloom there is a bright sun shining. The promise of an eventual reunion with a sweet, beloved companion and untold numbers of loved ones and forebears shines as a penetrating beam of hope with power to dissipate the darkness. There awaits a bright reawakening--a dawning into a never-ending day--for all who have ever lived on this earth. A joyful coming together of all that was broken; of old associations and friendships long forgotten. And for the faithful who choose to be sealed through the authority of the governing God, the promise that family, that golden standard of all happiness, can and will endure in unbroken chains of glory past the ends of eternity.

All this is possible in and through--and only through--our Redeemer, whose life and death and resurrection we celebrate each Easter. He is the resurrection and the life; our hope and salvation; the bright and morning star.

"If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. But now is Christ risen from the dead.... For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 15:19-22).

It is the hope that springs from Easter--from Him--that sustains us each day after the holiday and gives us reason to celebrate in the first place.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wife Rule #153: I Am Loved

Work has been hard recently. Several weeks ago I returned home completely drained--physically, mentally, and emotionally. I felt down in just about every part of my life, except my family. My sweet wife--even though I found out later that she had had a hard day of her own--was kind enough to let me come in and crash on the floor with my eyes closed until dinner. I didn't offer to help. I just lay there, completely self-absorbed, trying hard not to think about how frustrated and upset I was, and of course, unable to think of anything else.

I felt stuck. Or perhaps a better word is trapped. It seemed that every option I could think of to get out of my current situation had at least one serious drawback--a drawback that was too big to make the option worth seriously considering.

I could tell that I was in a bad spot and something needed to improve. Since I couldn't think of any way to improve my circumstances, I knew I needed to focus on getting over it. So I determined to do one of the only things that almost always seems to help when I'm down: I decided to awake early the following morning and attend the temple, the Lord's house on earth.

Since I live within five minutes of a Latter-day Saint temple and I was exhausted, the next morning I allowed myself to sleep until the last possible minute. I generally consider waking any time earlier than 6:00 AM to lie within the realm of obscenity, but for the temple that morning, I made an exception. I awoke at 5:50 with the intent to make it to the 6:30 session. Everything went well--no problems, no trouble with the icy roads, no wait once I was there. I hurried up the stairs as much as I dared, only to be met with the kind smiles of the hosts there, telling me that they had just shut the doors for the 6:30 session. I was literally probably one minute too late.

Well, if I've got to wait around until 7:00 and be 30 minutes late to work, I figured I should make the most of the time. I opened up the Book of Mormon to the spot I had been reading the previous night, in 1 Nephi 11. I followed some cross-references into the New Testament, read up on some stuff in the Bible Dictionary, and about 20 minutes later found myself back in 1 Nephi 11. I was reading about the prophet Nephi's vision of the Christ child being born and then read verses 16 and 17:

16 And he said unto me: Knowest thou the condescension of God?
17 And I said unto him: I know that he loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

The words of verse 17 seemed to jump out of the page at me: I know that God loveth his children; nevertheless, I do not know the meaning of all things.

This verse, taken in a totally different context than how it was written, seemed to perfectly describe my situation: I didn't know the meaning. I couldn't see the way. I was in a place of ambiguity. A wide assortment of roads lay before me, each as unappealing as the next. I was stuck, and simply did not know what to do.

How much easier it would be, I thought, if God would just tell me which path to take. I would gladly do it. But being where I was, trapped and seemingly unable to move in any suitable direction, I felt helpless and without direction. I did not know what to do, except to be patient and simply keep going.

But despite what I don't know, like Nephi, I do know that God loves His children. I know He watches over me and that he never has, and never will, abandon me. He has always been there to point the way, to give me just one step ahead, when I needed Him most. And since I have not yet felt his nudge to change my course, I have enough experience with His method of gentle guidance to know that I must not be at that point yet. He never gives us more help than we need--for doing so would deprive us of the growth that can only come through experiencing and slogging through life's perplexing ambiguities.

In the midst of these thoughts the time for the 7:00 session came, and I spent the next 90 minutes thinking about the ways that our loving Heavenly Father--for our own good--lets us deal with the ambiguities of life. He does provide direction at crucial points when we need it--I am a witness of this fact. But it also seems to me that often during very challenging times--those times when we're desperately seeking a change in our situation--the path to change seems ambiguous and the answers to our pleas for help are simply to be patient and keep on going.

Sometimes, because the scriptures are so terse, I think some of us get the mistaken notion that the "great ones" walked a golden path from miracle to miracle until they landed in heaven. But a careful reading of the stories in the Bible, Book of Mormon, and other scriptures reveals that even the Lord's prophets walked long, difficult pathways involving lots of ambiguity while waiting for the Lord's guiding hand to point the way or provide relief. The scriptural miracles that inspire us so much are in fact very special--and often rare--points of punctuation in lives that, like ours, would otherwise seem to be just long, run-on sentences.

Consider the difficulty of three of the epic journeys we read about in the scriptures:
  • Sometimes the faults of others cause us delay and pain in our journey. Nephi's journey to his promised land was certainly impacted by his older brothers' constant murmuring and occasional physical abuse and attempts on his life. These difficulties caused even faithful Nephi to struggle (2 Nephi 4:27-29).
  • Sometimes our times of ambiguity are because we don't ask for the help we need. The Jaredites spent four years completely stalled on their journey to their promised land before the Lord chastened their leader for not asking for guidance (Ether 2:14).
  • Sometimes our own failures land us in ambiguous places. Moses and the children of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness--and only a handful of the original bunch were permitted to see the promised land (Numbers 14:33). Moses, the great prophet, finished his life on the doorstep to this goal, but never attained it personally.
However, for many of us patience is required to work through the ambiguities of our journey simply because the distance we must travel is so very far. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step; but after a while those steps start to feel repetitive, and perhaps we wonder if we are taking the right journey at all, or whether there might be another, better way. But often the right answer is to simply see it through to the end:
  • Nephi and the rest of Lehi's family spent eight years in the wilderness between the time they left Jerusalem and when they arrived at the seashore where they built the ship to cross to the Americas (1 Nephi 17:4). Most of this long journey is never mentioned--just a few stories. It's probably safe to assume that it was often hard and boring. We often judge Laman and Lemuel harshly for complaining, but I wonder if I would have lasted eight years in a tent, walking day after day, with a cheerful attitude.
  • As for the Jaredites, even after they repented for not seeking the Lord's direction, their journey was still long. They spent nearly a whole year cooped up in barges without windows on a storm-tossed sea before arriving in the promised land (Ether 6:11).
  • The righteous children of Israel who would eventually be allowed into the promised land still had to wait the full forty years it took for the unbelievers to all die off.
Surely these people must have wondered at times whether they were doing the right thing, or whether things could be improved somehow. Despite the varying reasons why these journeys were so long and arduous, the reason for them was the same: the Lord loved these people and had designs--a promised land--specifically tailored for them. Their part of the bargain was to go when He said Go, stop when He said Stop, and have the patience to wait on Him and the fortitude to continue on during the times when He seemed to say nothing at all, despite the hardships and ambiguities they surely faced.

The Lord permitted the prophet Joseph Smith, after being unjustly tried, to wallow in the dismal Liberty Jail--a dungeon with four-foot thick walls, a filthy stone floor, and a ceiling too low to allow standing upright--for six months spanning perhaps the coldest winter on record before being allowed to escape (read more here). Doctrine and Covenants section 121, a prayer and revelation recorded during these dreary conditions, illustrates the ambiguity the Prophet felt so keenly during this difficult time:

1 O God, where art thou? And where is the pavilion that covereth thy hiding place?
2 How long shall thy hand be stayed, and thine eye, yea thy pure eye, behold from the eternal heavens the wrongs of thy people and of thy servants, and thine ear be penetrated with their cries?
3 Yea, O Lord, how long shall they suffer these wrongs and unlawful oppressions, before thine heart shall be softened toward them, and thy bowels be moved with compassion toward them?
(D&C 121:1-3)

Consider these scenarios of life's ambiguity, common to our day:
  • A young mother with children seems to spend her entire day picking up after careless toddlers; washing, folding, and putting away an endless stream of laundry that will somehow all end up on the floor again; preparing meals for people who will be hungry again in a few hours; and washing dishes that will be dirty again the next day. She wonders if she will survive and whether life will ever change.
  • A father spends a decade building a career that he hopes will provide a nice retirement someday, only to find himself out of work for a prolonged period of time, eating up the savings he had so carefully put away.
  • A child can't wait to grow up when he is small, only to discover that he doesn't feel ready to face the challenges and decisions required to be a "grown up" when he's big.
  • A widow spends decades alone, wondering how long the Lord will keep her here on earth, waiting for the happy reunion that will someday come.
  • A cancer patient with a poor prognosis tries to figure out how aggressively to fight the disease, trying to balance longevity with quality of life.
  • A woman with multiple-sclerosis battles her disease every day, all the while knowing that there will be yet harder days ahead.
  • A couple with a special needs child tries to figure out what kind of life they can provide for their child, while adjusting their long-term plans to accommodate this unexpected care burden.
  • A man searches diligently to find a woman to love and marry, only to have his purest intentions and best efforts frustrated.
There are no easy answers to the ambiguities present in these common scenarios--each one of which represents someone I know, and so many, many people I don't know. Each of these trials may cause the best of us to ask, "God, where art thou?" Each presents a challenge that only perseverance, patience, trust, and pure love (with a dash of true grit) can overcome. And the solutions always come according to the Lord's time table, which often doesn't align too well with our wishes.

There are many things I don't know, and many answers I don't have, but this much I do know: each of these trials are selected for us by a loving God who knows us and precisely plans the ways He will stretch us and help us to grow. The Lord's response to the Prophet Joseph's prayer in Liberty Jail applies to all of us: "know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good." (D&C 122:7)

Physical growth always occurs one cell at a time, and is almost imperceptible except by looking back over a long period of time. The kind of spiritual growth we signed up for when we voted to come experience mortality is the same, occurring a little bit at a time, one second after another during the long periods of waiting and ambiguity we must all endure. In fact, the very moments when we feel we are stalled in our forward progress may be the periods when we are experiencing our most rapid growth and are poised on the threshold of our greatest blessings.

Another thing I know: our loving God allows us our periods of ambiguity to wear down the mountains of our pride and selfishness the same way the mountains crumble and find their way to the sea: by the sheer erosion that only extended time and rough weather produce.

As I listened to the teachings in the temple that morning about the Savior, I was filled with gratitude that God has a plan and a way to help us in our need, offered through the gift of His beloved Son, the Savior of the world. Through Him we can overcome whatever may befall us. His grace is sufficient for me--and for all of us--and is the very key to surviving life's hardships and finding meaning in life's ambiguities.

As I finished the temple session and made my way into the center room in the temple representing the Celestial Kingdom where God dwells, the morning sun was streaming through the windows. It seemed to me that a new morning brought the promise of another chance to start fresh--that each new day segmented the challenges I face just enough to handle them, one chunk at a time. I felt a renewed confidence that God is in His heaven, that He loves me, and that I can work through my challenges and the ambiguity I currently face.

As I stood up to leave, I noticed someone: Alice, a sweet, elderly woman whom my wife and I knew in the previous neighborhood we lived in. She and her husband had worked at the temple for years, and we had greeted them here from time to time. In one of these occasional meetings we found out that her husband had passed away. It had now been several years.

Alice was seated near me, her eyes closed in fervent prayer. I wondered how she was doing. I wondered how much she missed her husband. I wondered whether being here, in the Lord's house where she and her husband had joined hands and began their journey together so many years ago, made her loss more poignant. I felt like I should stay and say hello, so I sat back down to wait for her to finish. Perhaps the smile of an old friend would brighten her day.

Alice prayed a long time, and I waited. When she finally finished, I paused for a few seconds and then stood up to greet her. She looked up and her face brightened as she recognized me. She greeted me warmly and told me how much she loves my wife, and offered her hand to clasp. I grasped it and we quietly chatted for a few moments. Then I stooped down to give her a hug.

While I embraced her, something very unusual happened. As I held this wonderful, sweet widow in a warm hug I thought of my own grandmother, a widow of over twenty years now. I thought of my dear mother-in-law, widowed for seven years. I sensed how very, very much God loves his widows. His love, which I had been basking in for my own sake, now seemed to stream down from heaven in even greater measure for Alice, and completely filled me. So I kissed Alice on the cheek. Prior to this day, I had only kissed two women outside my family, and I married one of them. I wondered a little at what I had done but was relieved when she kissed my cheek in return. I stood back up and looked at her. "I miss you as our neighbors," she said with genuine affection. "I do too," I responded, my voice nearly choking for the tears in my eyes. "It was so good to see you today, Alice."

We smiled at each other and I turned and walked out. As I left the temple that day, the love that God has for His children burned in my soul like a bright, warm fire. As I drove home to my loving wife (who had prepared a special breakfast, waiting for me when I arrived), I suddenly found myself with tears streaming down my face--not tears of despair because of life's ambiguities, but tears of gratitude because of what I have. It is true that I do not know the meaning of all things, and I don't yet know how my present challenge will turn out, but this I do know: God loves me, just as He loves all of His children, and whatever the problem, I will make it through--He will see to that, so long as I trust in Him. His grace is sufficient. This I know.

When our times of ambiguity seem to stretch on without a foreseeable end, we can remember the comforting words of the Lord to the prophet Joseph: "Therefore, hold on thy way.... Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not ... for God shall be with you forever and ever." (D&C 122:9)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wife Rule #152: It Is Enough

I listened on the radio for a few minutes yesterday as a talk-show host began to offer his perspective on love and romance. Shortly afterwards was one of a hundred jewelry commercials that hit the airwaves leading up to Valentine's Day. You know them: "Show her you love her with a diamond pendant." "Give the gift that is as everlasting as your love." "Be romantic. Buy diamonds." You've heard them all before.

These relentless messages did succeed in getting me thinking: after nearly 13 years of marriage together, what is the state of our love? How do I define love and romance? Is she still the girl of my dreams? Is our love, sans-diamonds, enough?

From the immortal wisdom of Joseph Stein's Fiddler on the Roof, lyricist Sheldon Harnick gives a perspective on these all-important questions between husband and wife. Reb Tevye and his wife Golde were the product of a marriage arranged by their parents, in the tradition of their people. They were poor dairy farmers in a small Russian town where their religion was persecuted. As their daughters begin to break the arranged-marriage tradition by falling in love first and asking for their parents' blessing on their choices afterwards, Tevye begins to ponder the real meaning of love. A tender, poignant duet springs from his simple question:

Do you love me?

Do I what?

Do you love me?

Do I love you?
With our daughters getting married
And this trouble in the town
You're upset, you're worn out
Go inside, go lie down!
Maybe it's indigestion

Golde, I'm asking you a question...
Do you love me?

You're a fool

I know...
But do you love me?

Do I love you?
For twenty-five years I've washed your clothes
Cooked your meals, cleaned your house
Given you children, milked the cow
After twenty-five years, why talk about love right now?

Golde, The first time I met you
Was on our wedding day
I was scared

I was shy

I was nervous

So was I

But my father and my mother
Said we'd learn to love each other
And now I'm asking, Golde
Do you love me?

I'm your wife!

I know...
But do you love me?

Do I love him?
For twenty-five years I've lived with him
Fought him, starved with him
Twenty-five years my bed is his
If that's not love, what is?

Then you love me?

I suppose I do.

And I suppose I love you too.

It doesn't change a thing
But even so,
After twenty-five years
It's nice to know.

My wife and I haven't been married for 25 years, but we're now officially over half way there. What is our love? We have six children. We have two cars, a home, and a big mortgage. We have piles of laundry and a sinkful of dishes. We have stress, worries, and problems. We've got a lot of stuff and by now, at least a little bit of history. So what is our love?

Our love is waking up every morning next to the same person. It is groggily falling out of bed and touching fingertips across the mattress while we say our individual prayers. It is sidling over to her side of the bed so we can clasp hands as we join together in couple prayer.

Our love is the simple act returning to the bedroom after breakfast and finding my toothbrush preloaded with paste and waiting on the counter for me. It is making the bed so it will look nice when she sees it next.

Our love is jointly gathering the children together to read from the scriptures and kneeling with them for morning family prayer. It is when a child has forgotten something during the daily rush off to school, and my wife says "I got it" so that my own tight schedule won't be further impacted. It is getting in the shower and finding that the soap has been replaced and that the towels have been washed and rehung.

Our love is when she brings the baby to me for a kiss so I don't have to cross the room on my way out the door. It is the kiss and the smile she gives me when I leave. It is the look she gives me when she says, "I'll miss you." It is my reply of mutual affection and the reluctance I feel each day as I back out of the driveway.

Our love is me calling at lunch, sometimes late, and her eagerness to fill me in on the happenings of the morning. It is when our conversation is short because neither of us has anything to report, but it's so good to hear her voice anyway.

Our love is my call before I leave work, asking if I can pick up anything on the way home. It is me mustering all the energy left in my depleted reserves so I can have something to give when I return. It is her dinner preparations and valiant efforts to enlist the children's help--mostly for their own good--in cleaning and setting the table. It is the anticipation I feel when opening the door. It is the look of mixed relief and joy when she sees me again.

Our love is the welcome kiss and the tightness of our arms wrapped around each other as we give a quick squeeze before getting back to work.

Our love is the fifteen minutes of down time in the recliner in a darkened room that she gives me on days when she can see that I need it. It is the fifteen minutes of "time out" that I help her take on days when I can see that she needs it.

Our love is quieting six energetic children just long enough to give a prayer of thanks for the food, and the sincere thanks for the preparer of the food when I offer it. It is her gentle reminder to rotate the assignment when I've called on the same person to pray four times in a row. It is the happy conversation that permeates the rest of the meal.

Our love is the mutual willingness to jump right into the post-dinner responsibilities: encouraging the kids in their chores, doing baths, reading books, and telling bedtime stories. It is appreciating the variety offered by the occasional show or board game or forgotten homework assignment that sometimes throws off the routine. It is the joint effort to corral kids who each have more residual energy than both of us combined, and convincing them to quiet down once more, for just a minute or two, for our nightly family prayer. It is helping the youngest ones say their own prayers and express prompted, but deserved, gratitude for Mommy and Daddy. It is kissing goodnight and tucking in together.

Our love is collapsing in a heap on the couch after the house is finally quiet.

Our love is finding a second wind at that time, to play a game or watch a show, or more often, to finally just talk without competition. It is the fading light of the evening and the soft lamp-glow that highlights her features. It is moving to the same couch after enjoying looking across at her face, so we can hold hands. It is her head finding rest on my shoulder. It is the smell of her hair and the warmth of her cheek.

Our love is seamlessly sharing one sink during our bedtime hygiene rituals. It is kneeling down, clasping hands, and huddling together as we pray over the events of the day and the vast and varied needs of loved ones, our children, and each other. It is heartfelt expressions of gratitude for marriage and the joyful life we share.

Our love continues as the lights are turned off and she cuddles up to me, resting her head on my shoulder as my arm wraps around her. It is the conversation taking off again because we've got more to say.

Our love is our talk of problems and solutions, of goals and dreams, of memories past and those we hope to make. It is lists of things to do and things we love. It is planning a life--a long life--together.

Our love is the merging of two people so completely that we become one. It is the complete blank that comes into my mind when I try to imagine life without her. It is realizing that she is an inseparable part of me, the best part I have. It is the realization that our union is, in fact, meant to be eternal. It is realizing the full weight of what that means and that we are both perfectly, completely content, and even excited, to spend the next million years together--and an eternity after that.

Our love is drifting off to sleep with the sound of her breathing in my ear and the warmth of her body next to me. It is the sweet, worry-free oblivion that comes in large part because I know it will all repeat in the morning, with her at my side.

And so we go on. We've done this love thing every day in more or less this same fashion nearly 5000 times. We'll do it 5000 more, and then a million times after that. We wouldn't have it any other way. It's life--our life--and it's beautiful.

President Gordon B. Hinckley, a prophet of God, expressed the love he felt for his wife in this simple, yet eloquent way:

"...if you will bear with me, I wish to exercise a personal privilege. Six months ago... I stated that my beloved companion of 67 years was seriously ill. She passed away two days later....

"My children and I were at her bedside as she slipped peacefully into eternity. As I held her hand and saw mortal life drain from her fingers, I confess I was overcome. Before I married her, she had been the girl of my dreams, to use the words of a song then popular. She was my dear companion for more than two-thirds of a century, my equal before the Lord, really my superior. And now in my old age, she has again become the girl of my dreams....

"I am grateful to be able to say that in our long life together I cannot remember a serious quarrel. Small differences occasionally, yes, but nothing of a serious nature. I believe our marriage has been as idyllic as anyone’s could possibly be.

"I recognize that many of you are similarly blessed, and I compliment you most warmly, for when all is said and done there is no association richer than the companionship of husband and wife, and nothing more portentous for good... than the unending consequences of marriage."

I have tasted the beauty, depth, and richness of that holy association he describes. My wife and I love each other; and that love, being exactly what it is today, is more than enough.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

New Non-Wife-Rule Blog

I have consolidated my other blogging attempts into one catch-all non-Wife-Rules blog: Matt's Scratch Pad. I'll be adding stuff to it from time to time. It will probably remain a permanent resident in the header of this blog. I invite you to check it out.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Wife Rule #151: She is Beautiful

My two-year-old daughter is very into pretty things--especially anything princess.

Today as I was dressing her for church, I slipped a beautiful velvet burgundy dress over her head. Then I draped the matching little jacket over her shoulders and fastened it around her neck with a button adorned with a faux diamond. I reached my fingers around the sides of her head and drew her soft, silky hair out of the dress and let it fall down her back until it settled near her waist. I turned her around and tied the dress in the back, then turned her back around for one more look. Gently reaching in and brushing a few stray hairs from her face, I looked into her angelic blue eyes.

"Charity, you're beautiful," I gushed at her, my voice full of tender, fatherly affection.

"Yes I am," was her matter-of-fact reply as she turned and skipped out of the room, leaving me alone with my thoughts.

"You're beautiful." "Yes I am." There was no doubt there, nor was there any hint of haughtiness. No shyness about it, nor air of superiority. There was just fact, that she is beautiful, and it didn't even occur to her to beat around the bush at admitting it.

If only all daughters could remain as pure and unspoiled as a two-year-old princess, the truth wouldn't be obscured by shame or pride. If only the incessant drone of the world didn't succeed so much in pushing a false standard of beauty that has so little to do with true worth. If only we could see ourselves as our Eternal Father sees us. Then, when He looks down on us with fatherly affection and strokes our hair and whispers "You're beautiful" we could reply with quiet confidence and certainty and admit "Yes, I am."

For every woman in the world, including my wife and daughters, is a daughter of God; and every daughter of God is a princess; and every princess is beautiful.

It's a simple fact.