Archive for April, 2011

And now for something completely different…

We keep chickens.

They lay a little; we get three to four eggs a day, and have been as high as eight.  We have rebuilt the coop three or four times, and have a good sturdy one now that has the added benefit of being portable, so we can move the coop off its base and scoop out the nitrogen-rich (but very smelly) compost there.  Good for the garden.  And the birds are almost family.  We love animals here.  Except dogs.

But there are problems in the flock. One of our chickens has been picked on so much she huddles in a corner of the coop and will not move. We got her out of the coop and she’s outside now, getting water and food, but not moving about much. Perhaps she can be rehabilitated, perhaps not.

This isn’t too uncommon. There’s a specific pecking order – that’s where the term comes from – and it’s not healthy. Two of our chickens are fairly free-range, as in they know how to get out of the coop and run about the neighborhood. When we get them back in, they don’t get on with the others at all. They aren’t part of the flock. But it’s spring planting season and they can’t be out in the wild eating people’s peppers.

We’re going to try a small side coop, and rotate the chickens through that in the hope that we can identify our four or five layers. We need to know who is laying, and who is dinner.  We’re all about laying chickens, not freeloaders.

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Gabriel still limps a bit, when he’s tired, and he doesn’t run fast, but he is running about and gaining confidence with the leg.  It buckles on him occasionally, but not very much any more.  So all in all, if he’d stay in his bed at night, we’d be almost back to normal.

He is Risen? Was that TODAY?

This post is mostly for those that are LDS, which is short for Latter-Day Saints, which is itself short for Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which is what everyone who is not LDS (and, let’s face it, most people that are) call Mormons.  It will be perfectly intelligible to those that are not members, but it will be especially harsh on those that are.  You’ve been warned.

So we’re at church yesterday.  It was Easter, after all.

No, wait.  We’re at church every Sunday.  Anyway we were at church, and I was out in the hall with Gabriel getting a drink, and some people walked by and I wished them a happy Easter.  They smiled and said, “Oh, that’s right!  It is Easter.  We forget, you know, since we don’t have any little children around.”

You will be so proud of me that I did not say, “Naturally.  You’d forget about the single most important event in the history of history because you didn’t have little plastic pastel eggs to remind you.  Entirely understandable.”

Let me repeat.  I did NOT say that.  I didn’t say anything.  But I thought it, and I’ve thought it a lot over the years, that Easter is the most underappreciated of all the holidays.  People talk about Mother’s Day being kind of a bad way to celebrate mothers, and I don’t necessarily disagree.  But on Mothers Day we will have five talks about mothers and a whole primary section of songs about mothers and at the end we’ll have little appreciative tokens (like tomato plants, or flowers or candy) for the mothers.

Whereas, and not for the first time, we went through the entire sacrament meeting without the word “Easter” being spoken.  The only reference to it was my having the choir sing a special number.  We sang Joy to the World, which is, as far as I’m concerned, the best Easter song there is, except maybe the Halelujah Chorus.  Perhaps not coincidentally, another song we also sing exclusively at Christmas.  But I digress.

Easter is the reason that Christmas makes any difference at all.  Children were born before Jesus, you know.  A lot of them.  Births are worth celebrating, surely; we do some of that our own selves.  I like celebrations of all kinds.  The hoopla surrounding the birth of Christ is wonderful, and I love it as hard as the next guy, but really, the birth is just…a birth.  Even if the mother was a virgin, which, admittedly, doesn’t happen every day.  EVEN SO.  That’s worth, what, a National Enquirer article?  It’s a baby.  Born into some obscurity and relative poverty.  An unusual child, certainly, but no matter how you slice it, it’s not the birth that mattered.

Whereas, all of those children that were born died, eventually.  How many of those dead people rose again?

None of them.  Easter is the first time that happened.  THAT is worth celebrating.  Then, even better, because Jesus in rising from the dead became the Christ, the Redeemer, the Savior of the World, all of us get to do the same at some point, so that death is not the end and our lives do not have to be a story of separation and loss.  We can go Home again.

If Jesus fails, then there is no Easter.  But then there isn’t any Christmas, either.  Not going to be much point in being a Christian, is there, if there’s no Christ.  The entirety of our religion, of all Christian religions, is encompassed in this: that Christ died for us, and rose on the third day, that we, too, might live.  That’s the entire point of this religion.

So forgive me if I become slightly annoyed that you can be standing in the hallway of a church building, upon which is written the name of the Lord Jesus, about to go into a meeting the name of which is in reference to the body and blood of Christ, telling me that you forgot it was Easter because nobody was around to get all shrieky about Peeps and plastic grass.

I won’t hit you.  I’ve absorbed that much of my lessons.  But I’ll wonder what you’re doing there, as Heaven is my witness I will.

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I’ll be the one to say it: the LDS are absolutely awful at Easter.  We, of all the Christians, understand the reality of the resurrection of Christ in a visceral, undeniable way, and we are by far the worst at celebrating it.

If you’re LDS, you know that the place where our religion breaks with most other Christian faiths is the reality of the physical, necessary resurrection, not just of ourselves, but of Christ as well.  The resurrection should be the most celebrated event in our faith, because it is one of the raisons d’etre of our faith.

Growing up in Virginia, I wasn’t exactly surrounded by Mormons.  I went to all sorts of other churches, and liked most of them.  I like religion.  I think it’s great.  At Easter, I got to see a lot of ways to celebrate, because my high school singing group was asked to perform at a lot of them (I have to emphasize this – we were very good).  I went to Methodist sunrise service and Catholic mass and you name it.  Easter was a great holiday for that.  Music everywhere.  Festivities.  Real celebrations – and why not?  The Christ resurrected is the whole point of Christianity.  It’s worth mentioning, you know, when it comes about.

In Hungary, we adopted a protestant custom that I love to this day, wherein you greet people at church not by saying “jo reggelt” (good morning) or “szervusztok” (essentially, hey there, how you doin’), but by saying “Feltámadott! (He is risen!), to which the answer is “Igy van” (it is so) or, my favorite, “Ahogy mondott.” (As He said.)  But we had to steal this from the Calvinists, because there really aren’t Easter traditions in the LDS church.

You can say that’s because of the Puritan strain that runs like a chocolate ribbon through the Fudge Ripple of our religious ice cream.  Perhaps.  That doesn’t stop Santa Claus from appearing at Christmas parties, does it?  It doesn’t stop us from having ward-wide trunk-or-treats and spook alleys at church, among a host of things I find almost impossible to believe.  We have stake dances (if you’re not LDS, just go with it, we’re nearly done with the jargon).  We have wedding receptions in our cultural halls (that’s the last one, I promise).  We dance and sing and celebrate all sorts of things, just not the most important thing there is to celebrate.

It’s worse than that.  The Messiah, which the very name of says Easter, is now a Christmas piece, which would have flummoxed Handel.  In the LDS hymnbook, home to 348 pieces of music, how many are dedicated to Easter?  Four.  We’re not even trying, people.  Our Easter sacrament meetings are essentially indistinguishable from every other week of the year.  It is possible to go through the entire day without hearing the word Easter at all.  I shouldn’t have to mention that that is categorically impossible in every other church in the whole of Christendom.

And don’t give me the crap about Easter having been co-opted by the Easter Bunny.  When I start seeing egg-coloring dye in the stores on January 3, then you can tell me that Easter has been over-commercialized.  Christmas gets celebrated with festivals of all kinds thrown by our people, despite the routine appearance of the Jolly Round Elf.  If we wanted to, we’d celebrate Easter.  But we don’t.

I find this incredibly sad.

NOTE: those of you that are of other faiths, or other branches of the same Christian faith, here’s an opportunity to do the mote and the beam thing, and see if your faith traditions actually enshrine what you believe to be central to your beliefs.  If you have no work to do there, congratulations, but I bet you do.

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No problem without a solution, eh?  So I do have a couple of suggestions.

Yesterday my mother put together an Easter program with our family.  We had a set of scriptures read by the boys of the family that were of age, followed by the girls singing “Did Jesus Really Live Again?” a lovely primary song.  It was a very nice little program, and it helped.  You can do that kind of thing, too.

We never have Easter egg hunts on the Sabbath.  I don’t myself see how that activity is even remotely Sabbath-worthy, but if you do, I invite you to consider making a change.  It’s just a suggestion.  Saturdays work great for those things.  We do color eggs as a family, and that’s a fun activity, but of course that’s not what we do on Sunday.  You don’t have to eliminate everything culturally fun about Easter to be able to focus on the point of the holiday.  You can decorate a tree, you can decorate eggs.  Same principle.

Also, yesterday I came home from church and fired up the Messiah, starting at about the 18th section.  At that point you’ve gotten the birth announcement out of the way and we’re to the part about Jesus being the Savior, not just a baby.  You get to keep the Halelujah Chorus, too (it’s section 39, not anywhere near the Christmas part), so that’s nice, and you can really dig in to the Amen at the end, which is the best part of the oratorio.  I’ll do that again, and one of these years, we’re going to do the full-blown Messiah sing-in on Easter week.  You’re all invited.

My sisters made resurrection rolls this week.  You can judge for yourself, but the kids liked it.  No doubt you have suggestions of your own, and I’d be thrilled to hear them.  We can reverse this, people.  We can bring Easter back to its rightful place at the center of our Christian worship.  In fact, I think we must.

We’re going to see dark times.  We are going to be challenged, and we are going to be threatened, and we are going to die.  As people, and each of us individually, we are going to have these things come to us, and I testify to you that Christmas will not be enough to save us.  No, we are each of us going to have to go to Gethsemane and Golgotha, not just Bethlehem.  Without the promise of the Garden Tomb, where will we find the strength to believe that horror and death give way to joy and life eternal?  That they have given way, that they must give way, in the end?

We find that strength in Easter, in the reality of the Risen Lord, else our faith is vain, and we are of all men most miserable.  Here is a fervent prayer that we will do some work toward restoring that greatest of all events to the center of our faith, where it will do as Christ promises, becoming a well of living water, springing up to everlasting life and joy eternal.

Feltámadott!

To Pepper Potts, who saved my life

Today is the birthday of Jillyn Hawkley Peterson, one of the best people in the world, whether she believes it or not.  About eight weeks ago she re-entered my life like a gale and blew off all the smog that had collected there, changing in moments some things and beginning transformations that still have not come entirely to fruition.  Her efficiency and drive and boundless energy have led several people to inquire of me, “where do I get a Jill?”  This post, on her birthday, is an explanation of where she came from, and one of why that question’s answer is always, “sorry, I don’t think you can.”

Twenty-five years ago, or thereabouts, I was in the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo, UT, preparing (I use the term loosely) to serve a two-year Mormon mission to the People’s Republic of Hungary.  As I was the first missionary called there from the States, and the only one at the time, my training regimen was somewhat haphazard.  Instead of being in class all the time, I frequently had time to myself, and on Wednesdays, that meant that I went to the front of the MTC and acted as a self-appointed tour guide.  Wednesdays, all the new missionaries arrived.

With their families.

And occasionally, those families included sisters of appropriate age.

Okay, there wasn’t anything I could DO about those sisters even if they were there, which they often weren’t, so most of the time I just helped the poor lost souls find their way to the farewell meeting, and carried their luggage.  Which is why I was there when the Hawkley family from Mountain Home, ID showed up to drop off Elder Danny.

Elder Danny had a sister of the appropriate age, as it happened, and her name was Jillyn.  As it happened, I knew someone from Mountain Home; I had dated a girl for five or six years whose family had recently moved there.  Mirabile dictu, the families knew each other, and Jill and Katie were friends.  That allowed me to write to Katie and ask for Jill’s address, and Jill, in typical fashion, did the same in reverse.

We wrote each other for two solid years.  Jill was the closest thing I had to a girlfriend while I was across the world, and she connected me to real things.  We became good friends, sent each other gifts, including an absolutely brilliant Doctor Who-esque scarf that I loved and that I gave away to a poor Hungarian family just before I left the country.  I was, of course, half in love with her the whole time, and thought that we might get together when I returned home.

Which in due course I did, and we did indeed get together.  Once.  She had me over to dinner, and it was not a particularly memorable occasion, for all that we knew each other very well and knew that we liked each other’s company.  There just weren’t any sparks, in either direction.  A few months later I met Jeanette, and about the same time Jill went on a mission her own self, to Iowa.

Cue a twenty-year separation.

We didn’t write, didn’t call, and somehow didn’t forget about each other.  I was dancing back and forth from career to career, finally settling on a mushrooming mortgage business, and Jill was moving all over the country and the world, having two children, and processing loans herself for her own husband’s mortgage business at one point.

Facebook connected us again about two years ago, to find that Jill was on her way to Australia, she hoped for a long time.  We had a brief interaction in support of a friend of mine in need, and nothing much more.

Until Gabriel broke his leg.  And all on a sudden, Jill was there again.

She volunteered to come and babysit so that Jeanette could come to my play, and thought that before she did so, she might want to come by so Gabriel and Jeanette could meet her before that evening, make sure it was going to be okay.  Since she was in town anyway filling out paperwork to start working for HobbyLobby, she came to see if I was at the office.  I was.  She stayed three hours.

For several years, it’s been apparent to me that I had more ideas, more businesses even, than I could possibly handle myself.  I’d tried several assistants without much success, mostly because I personally don’t know how to really use one effectively.  To use an analogy that will be familiar, I was Tony Stark, and nobody but Pepper Potts would possibly be able to deal with me.  But I had to have one, and especially with being named the PR Director at City First, I was now dropping so many balls that I was in some level of despair.  Then Gabriel’s injury happened and the level deepened.

Jill heard all this.  More, she felt it and knew some of it because she’s the sort that can draw the pain out into the open and deal with it.  And when I told her I was desperate for help in so many ways, she just nodded.  She already had a job.

Which the next day, she quit.  And then she came over to the house, and met Jeanette and Gabriel, and stayed five hours. At about hour four, she looked at me across the dining room table and said “what I want to talk to you about…”  The next day, she moved in and took over my business life.  Pepper Potts arrived.

I could never pay her what she’s worth, not even a tiny fraction of it, and she’d work for the sheer joy and challenge of it anyhow.  She’s dug in with both hands and both feet and the last eight weeks have flown by.  She pruned off so much dead wood from the tree of my business life that I found I could see again, could begin to imagine reaching some of those goals I thought had passed me by.  She saved my life.  Really, she did.  What I call my life now was in intensive care, and now is out of danger and starting to look seriously at rehab and returning to full health.

Jeanette says I’m happy again.  The business is improving and I have time to do some of the things I was neglecting.  All this, and we’re just getting started.

So Jill, this is the gift I have to give, that you have my trust and my confidence, my commitment and my enthusiasm.  My admiration and my gratitude.  Here’s to a long, long partnership with everything you ever wanted along the way.

Happy birthday.  And thank you.

He’s ALIIIIIVE!!!

Gabriel actually took five steps this morning.  He didn’t like it.  But he wasn’t crying about it.  I held his hand and we walked to Mommy, and then he collapsed.  People, that right there made this one of the best days EVER.

I’m constantly amazed by the wonder of the little things through this process.  I’ve never had so much fun playing hide-and-seek as I did when Gabriel was stationary and we had to figure out how to do it with pillows.  Watching him eat, watching him learn to roll over with those heavy fiberglass pants on, watching him learn to SLEEP, even, everything was new and great.

And then I think, you know, I have eighth children, and everything they do is new and different and amazing, and I’m missing it.  I’m missing the best parts of my life, because they’re free and they occasionally rub their snot on my shirts.  How ridiculous.

I’d say, “no more!” and “I’ll never do that again!” but I know that’s false, and I will do it again, and those beautiful, incredible little people that inhabit my house will go back to being background noise, but I do hope and pray that again and again I’ll be brought back out of it a little more, to see the miracles that happen to me every single day.

Today is good.  I see it today.  Today I’m alive, and Gabriel’s walking, and the rest of it, really, doesn’t matter one bit.

Phase One: it’s OVER!

Well, the Gabriel part is over, anyway, and though many of the challenges persist and will persist – I’m not done talking about this stuff – the major difficulty is surmounted, the cast is off, and Gabriel is whole again.  He’s still not walking.  We’ll have more updates, so you can breathe out again.  But now it’s all about him, not about him and doctors and hospitals.

The night this injury happened six weeks ago, I have a scene in my head from outside the hospital.  I can see myself as if I were watching a  movie, walking across the parking lot of American Fork’s Emergency Room, still dressed in the remnants of my tuxedo from the Twelfth Night Charity Ball, watching the taillights of the ambulance as it carried my wife and little son away from me.  I remember feeling terribly alone, shaken and scared and hopeless.   For the first time in a long, somewhat disappointing night, I was by myself, and I began to weep.

I raised my eyes to Heaven, where dwells a Father I believe in, and I told him, “I don’t understand.  I don’t understand what you’re doing to me.”  We’ve been together, my Father and I, long enough for me not to insult Him by asking “why”, for no such answer is ever going to be forthcoming.  I know better.  Despite my sadness and frustration over this event, I wasn’t so lost as to forget that I was still the most blessed of men.  I wasn’t so far gone that I thought that God somehow owed me an explanation, as if a God omnipotent and all-loving might be making a mistake.  Of course He did not, and does not, and I will trust in Him, though he slay me.  But I wanted to tell Him, although of course He knew, that I didn’t understand.

He has spent the last six weeks helping me get over that.  And though I am not so simple as to believe that I can ever search all the ways of God, find out all His counsels, or ever know all the reasons why He does the things He does, still I can see so many places where His hand has been evident.  This post is my thank-you letter, to a merciful God that loves me better than I love myself.

Because this happened:

  • How many friends have I connected and reconnected with?  Nothing brings friends closer than misfortune, and this misfortune was no different.  I can hardly count all the well-wishes we’ve received, all the old and new friends we’ve spoken to and been able to thank for their kindness and consideration of us.  If from this life I can take anything, it is surely not my home or my business, but the friendships and the relationships I made while I was here.  I’ve said before that I know that you CAN “take it with you”.  You just have to convert it to the currency they use where you’re going.  Thank you, all of you, for making me the richest man in town.
  • How much more have I been compelled to be humble?  It’s a little tough to have unwarranted confidence when you’re faced with concrete evidence that often, there’s nothing you can do to make things better, or even different.  Sometimes, no matter your business acumen or physical strength or even your money, you just can’t do anything except keep on keepin’ on.  No money could make Gabriel’s leg heal any faster.  Nothing but playing with him and sleeping with him and holding him while he sobbed and screamed could do anything to make things better.  I saw often and clearly that I was powerless before the conditions that I found myself in.
  • How much more of my real power have I discovered?  I have never fancied myself a great businessman.  I’m a Bailey – and not Harry Bailey, either.  Peter, more like, or George.  But what I have loved so much about the story of that film is the invisible power George has, a power that improves the lives and the fortunes of hundreds of people in ways that are obscure and even hidden from him.  Despite my feeling of powerlessness in the face of Gabriel’s discomfort, my wife’s weariness, my family’s displacement, the damaging or outright destruction of dreams and plans we had, I discovered to my surprise a different power, far stronger than I supposed, that could still improve things, even if making the problem go away was impossible.  I COULD hold my little son.  I could let my wife sleep in here and there.  I could focus our family on the things I could do.  And I could tell the story of what we were doing, in the hope that someone out there could benefit if he were caught in similar circumstances.
  • How much fun have I had being a daddy blogger?  There are a huge number of Mommy blogs out there, and I love to read them, but I occasionally feel that perhaps there ought to be a few more Daddy blogs, because as important as it is for us men to hear how our wives think – I can’t tell you how useful I find that – it’s still nice to sometimes hear the truth about what’s going on in Dad’s head, too.  We tend to sit there like Lincoln on Rushmore and just take it.  At least, we look like we do.  But we hurt, too, and we feel powerless and hopeless and achy and all the same stuff everyone else does.  We just don’t talk much about it.  It’s been educational to use this space to be perfectly candid about our situation from the Dad’s perspective, and I’ve been grateful for those of you Dads out there that have let me know that you appreciate it, too.
  • How much have I learned?  Before this, I knew nothing about the medical establishment.  I knew nothing of medical billing, hospital procedures, emergency rooms, medical staff, treatment options and possibilities for rehab.  I had done some vague thinking about insurance and government assistance, but nothing of concreteness.  That’s changed.  I’ve learned about thinking outside the box on daily challenges, being patient in extreme provocation with my youngest child, and how compassionate and creative my other children are because they love their brother.  I’ve been able to re-imagine my life, partly out of necessity, and discovered how incredible things can really be.  I was blind.  In so many ways, now I see.
  • How would I have found Jill Peterson?  More than any of these other things, from a business standpoint, the greatest blessing of this ordeal has been the discovery (or re-discovery) of Jill Peterson, who became my executive assistant one week after the accident.  I’ll have more on this later.  She’s far too important a person to get just a paragraph here.  But suffice it to say that had she been the only blessing we received through this, it would have all been worth it. No fooling.
  • How ignorant would I have remained about my wife’s incredibility?  We’ve long suspected that Jeanette was really Elastigirl in disguise, but this last six weeks has proved it.  She can go days with only the briefest of rests.  She can maintain her calm at 4am when the screaming child vomits, not because he is sick, but because he’s frustrated.  She can retain her appetite while sitting with a child that smells like the inside of a port-a-potty on a hot summer day.  She can re-arrange her entire life in a day, giving up or postponing huge numbers of things she’d really like to do.  There is nothing she cannot sacrifice.  There is no life she cannot affect for good.  She has been able to use this to grow closer to each of her children, and to me.  She’s the cement that makes the foundation of our family.  No husband could love his wife more than I love her, but then, no husband is as fortunate as I am.  We’re stronger and we’re better, because of this.
  • I wouldn’t have remembered.  I blogged about this a long while ago, but it bears repeating here.  It seems that only in the face of disaster do we dare to re-imagine our lives, to let go of what we thought would be, what we are terrified of losing, and like a seed bursting from its pod fling ourselves into the unconstructed future, making of it what we can as the chance comes.  I remember now.

And today, another blessing, as we are reminded of the incredible miracle of just being whole.  To run, to jump, to dance…to touch the smiling face of a loving Father in Heaven, who had a whole treasure chest to give us, if only we would stay with Him as He pushed us into a place we would never have gone ourselves.

I still don’t understand.  But I’ve learned, even more, to trust Him anyway.

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