Wednesday, November 24, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: I Pray for a Grateful Heart

 

I PRAY FOR A GRATEFUL HEART
"May your stuffing be tasty
May your turkey be plump,
May your potatoes and gravy
Have nary a lump.
May your yams be delicious
And your pies take the prize,
And your Thanksgiving dinner
Stay off your thighs!" Anonymous

We clearly live in a land of super-abundance when we need to wish that our Thanksgiving dinners stay off of our thighs. How fortunate we are as Americans that we can set aside this day as a time of appreciation and togetherness!
I love Thanksgiving because it reminds me to give thanks and to count my blessings. When I do so, when I realize how blessed I am, so many of my worries and troubles suddenly become so small. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to reflect upon our present blessings — of which we all have many — and not on our past misfortunes, of which we all have some. “The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us.” James E. Faust
This Thanksgiving season, I am praying for a grateful heart. I believe gratitude is a gift from God. With gratitude, we are able to experience everything around us, and even life itself, as a blessing. 
When we have a grateful heart, it liberates us from the prison of self-preoccupation. I’ve long observed that a man all wrapped up in himself makes a pretty small bundle; the antidote is to seek and exercise the gift of gratitude.
Johannes A. Gaertner observed: “To speak gratitude is courteous and pleasant, to enact gratitude is generous and noble, but to live gratitude is to touch Heaven.” With gratitude, we are able to love what we have. When we love what we have, we have everything we need. We have enough and to spare. 
Gratitude and Thanksgiving fit together. “Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse,” wrote Henry Van Dyke. I pray that we can act on that impulse, not merely for a season, but all year. 

May we give thanks on Thanksgiving Day and every day of our lives. May we appreciate and never take for granted all that we have. May we be blessed with a grateful heart.

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: Always and Forever

 

ALWAYS AND FOREVER

"And because he loved her, it wouldn't matter that she wasn't twenty-two or thirty or forty anymore. In his eyes she was truly the most beautiful woman in the world. That thought brought tears to his eyes. A sucker for love indeed." Kristan Higgins

We were both 23 when we met, fell in love, and got married. Now Marcie is turning 70 and I’ll follow suit exactly six months later. 
Last August 19 marked 46 years of being married. My love for my sweetheart has never waned; it is far deeper today than the first time I laid eyes on her as she was teaching Sunday School. In that moment, I was immediately and eternally smitten.
Together we have birthed, raised, and sent into the world six marvelous and talented children. We have lived in six different states, traveled to several different countries, and shared many delightful experiences.  I have had consistent and heart-felt joy during this journey, largely because of my partner and traveling companion, Marcie.
Five years ago, I wrote a Wednesday Wisdom article that remains my favorite. The title was Falling in Love 14,975 Times. I think it bears repeating here as we look forward into our 70s and 80s to the next stage of our sojourn. Here is what I wrote then:
 
“A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, and always with the same person.” Mignon McLaughlin
On Friday, Marcie and I will be married — happily, peacefully, blissfully — for 41 years. So how did it happen that two very different and imperfect people could live in love and harmony for 14,975 days?
“Happen” is probably the wrong word, because it was not happenstance. As Paul H. Dunn once said, “When you see someone standing on a mountain top, it’s quite likely they didn’t fall there.” Besides choosing wisely and prayerfully in the first place, we consciously applied a few bedrock principles in our marriage that have fostered a sweet and tender atmosphere all these years. I’m not sure if these would work as well in other people’s marriages, but they have worked for us.
First, we were “all in” from day one. We chose, at no small sacrifice, to be married not just “as long as you both shall live,” but for this life and for all eternity. We saw our marriage as sacred and forever. That meant no going back, no bailing out, no hanging it up if things were harder than expected. In our hearts and minds, there was no running home to mama, no “try it and see if you like it,” no swapping partners if this doesn’t work out. We determined up front that we were eternally committed to each other and our marriage, and that we would treat it and each other accordingly.
Next, I recognized early in our marriage that my own happiness is inextricably bound to Marcie’s happiness. In a paradoxical blend of selflessness and selfishness, the more I seek to assure Marcie’s happiness, the more happiness I find for myself. But it must be done in that order. Deep and abiding happiness does not result from pursuing your own happiness directly. Instead, it is a natural byproduct of seeking the well-being of those you love. Happiness is like a butterfly. The harder you chase it, the more it eludes you; but when you decide to promote your spouse’s happiness first, it comes to you of its own accord. Once I understood this principle, it was not hard to live “happily ever after.”
Finally, we have disagreed agreeably. When differences of opinion arise — and they will — there is a right way and a wrong way to handle them. There is no place in marriage for disrespect, sarcasm, anger, arrogance, bullying, belittlement, pettiness, rancor, rolled eyes, cold shoulders, or the silent treatment. Hello?!?! This is your lover and your best friend! Disagreements call for patient listening, genuine and generous attention, an earnest desire to understand the other’s point of view, and a healthy dose of flexibility. With these and a commitment to seek win/win outcomes, we have successfully navigated our differences. 
Here’s to you, Marcie, for 14,975 wonderful, amazing days and nights, and a million, zillion more!
* * * * *
By the time she celebrates her 70th birthday on November 14, 2021, the tally on our time together will be 16,889 days and nights. I will love her even more then than I do now, and the same will be true with each passing day, week, month, and year. As Nenia Campbell wrote, “I don’t know how many nights remain to us, but I know I want to spend them all with you.”
In contemplating this subject, I ran across two additional quotes that I fully agree with. Michael Bassey Johnson said, “Sticking to one person for a lifetime is not a waste of time or lack of better ones, it means you've found your place of eternity.” This is so true! She — or better said, we, together, side by side — is MY place of eternity.
 
The other quote is from Nehali Lalwant: “They say that nothing lasts forever, but I am a firm believer in the fact that for some, love lives on even after we’re gone.” I am a firm believer that loving marriages and families can be forever. Our eternal love is based on sacred covenants made in the House of the Lord. Through the unparalleled suffering and resurrection of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we will live forever, and through His matchless power and grace, so will our marriage and our family.
 
Building and nourishing our relationship is without a doubt the most valuable and delightful thing I have ever done. It is the success of which I am most proud. And it will ever remain so, always and forever. Marcie, “the only magic I ever really made was the love I had with you.” Eden Butler

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: "Low Battery"

 

"LOW BATTERY"


"When hearing aids were first mentioned, I pictured myself as that old geezer at the back of the church with the whistling ear trumpet." Roger Taylor


I’ve been wearing hearing aids for about a year now. My son Paul, who studied audiology and hearing deficiencies in college, said hearing aids would help address my tinnitus (that constant ringing in my ears) as well as my difficulty hearing certain tones. He also presented me with studies showing that unaddressed hearing loss can lead to early dementia. It was primarily that fear that drove me to take action on this issue and sign up to wear hearing aids.

My concerns about appearances almost kept me from taking the plunge. I think hearing aids make me look older and handicapped. While they have helped with my hearing and the tinnitus, the jury is still out on preventing early dementia. When I can’t remember someone’s name or where I left my keys, I sometimes worry that it may be creeping up on me sooner than I hoped.

There’s one feature I do like: they warn me when I need to replace the batteries. When the power is getting low, I hear this deep, gravely male voice saying, “Low Battery.” In a few minutes, I get the message again: “Low Battery.” I’ve learned to act promptly on that message because if I don’t, my hearing aids will soon be dead.

I’ve often thought it would be helpful if I could get a “Low Battery” alert when needed for other parts of my life. For example:

  • When I’m driving on a long trip and start to get fatigued, it would be great if I got a “Low Battery” message encouraging me to pull over and rest a bit.   Take time to take a nature break, stretch my legs, and grab a snack, before I resume my journey.
 
  • When I’ve been putting in long hours on a grinding project and it seems that my productivity is waning and my mental acuity is fading, it would help to get a “Low Battery” warning suggesting that I’ll actually get more done if I step away from the task at hand. Try some mindless diversion and let my brain recharge, then go back to work.
 
  • When I’ve been a bit casual with my prayers, my scripture reading, and my spiritual well-being, it would be uplifting to receive a “Low Battery” alarm advising me to not allow worldly cares to crowd out the things of the soul. Get back to strengthening and nourishing my inner and eternal self every day.
 
  • When I’ve spent too much time focused on my own activities and haven’t given Marcie sufficient attention, it would be sweet to receive a “Low Battery” alert reminding me that my most important relationship mustn’t be ignored. Set aside my own interests and spend delightful time chatting with my wife, watching one of our favorite shows, and spending unrestricted time focused just on her.

Yes, it would be grand to be alerted whenever I might be wandering off the path. Just a friendly little “Low Battery” warning. That would give me the chance to correct my course and keep heading in a positive direction.

Is there a piece of your life in which a “Low Battery” alert would be useful?

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: THERE'S SOMETHING MAGICAL ABOUT GRANDCHILDREN


THERE'S SOMETHING MAGICAL ABOUT GRANDCHILDREN


“Grandchildren are God’s way of compensating us for growing old.” -Mary H. Waldrip  

 



I’ve enjoyed an abundance of grandparenting blessings lately.



Our granddaughter Sophie called while we were dealing with Covid to check on us and to wish us a prompt recovery.  She’s out on her own now, quite grownup, so this was self-initiated, not something her mother prompted her to do.  She simply wanted to express her love and concern for us.  It was a treat to hear from her and learn about her current and future plans.  Her brothers Henry and Eli are likewise thoughtful about our needs and concerns.



Our grandson Walker came to visit us a week ago Sunday.  He’s completing an intensive program for learning Italian in preparation for going to Rome as a missionary for our church.  He spoke in church recently and displayed a very mature understanding of the purpose of life and an appreciation for this grand opportunity he has to make a difference in the world.  It is so marvelous when grandchildren grow up and we see they have their heads on straight, given all the craziness in the world today.

 


This past weekend I visited my four grandchildren who live in Logan, Utah, primarily to attend Matthew’s baptism.  Afterwards, he stood and expressed in his own words his sweet feelings in taking this important step in his life.  I also was able to spend delightful time with his three sisters, Daisy, Penny, and Ella.  It was wonderful to see that all four are growing up to be helpful, caring human beings and beautiful people, both inside and out.



At the moment, no one knows where our grandchildren's individual journeys may take them.  I think their parents are doing a great job helping them use their agency wisely, but the jury is still out.  Even if some make choices that make us scratch our heads, we nevertheless love them and rejoice in our relationships with each one.  They are ours and we're happy that they will be in our lives forever.

As any grandparent knows, the best part of our role is that you can enjoy the fun and happiness of a close relationship with little accountability for how they’re behaving.  With our children, we had to be constantly vigilant to make sure we were bringing them up right.  Not so with the next generation — no micromanagement duties there.  We can actually be pals with them. We can play with them and spoil them. “Being grandparents sufficiently removes us from the responsibilities so that we can be friends.” Allan Frome

Someone famously quipped that if they knew how great it was to have grandchildren compared to the labor of raising children, they would have had grandchildren first.  I suspect, however, that it is not the ORDER in which they come, but OUR AGE when they arrive in our lives.  By the time we reach grandparent age, we’ve mellowed and we’ve learned what really matters in life.  We’ve learned to stop sweating the small stuff.  Youngsters are not fundamentally different whether they’re our children or our grandchildren; WE are different.

Yes, there’s something magical about the time we spend with grandchildren.  And there’s also something magical about recognizing who we’ve become by the time we become grandparents. Being with grandchildren allows us to discover how much WE’VE grown since we raised their parents. When we see ourselves reflected in our grandchildren’s eyes, we like who we’ve become. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

 

I'M GRATEFUL FOR THE VACCINE



If the Covid-19 virus were a person, he would be a shrewd and deadly enemy.  Beyond his capacity to be spread by people who have no idea they are infectious, and his ability to surreptitiously infect and then maim or kill whoever catches it, one of his most cunning and successful tactics was to explode upon the scene smack in the middle of one of the most contentious and divisive election years ever. 

The result of this uncanny timing was that EVERYTHING that ANYBODY said or did to try to address this horrible plague was doubted, ridiculed, scorned, derided, belittled, questioned, resisted, ignored, bemocked, etc., by someone on either side of the political divide.  The fight OVER the response to the Covid seemed to far overshadow the fight WITH the Covid.  Who knows how we as a country might have fared if we had been working together on this problem?

Thus, when I state that I’m grateful for the vaccine, I fully expect full-throated boos or cheers from whichever side of this contentious issue you might find yourself.  But please hear me out before you either throw me on your shoulders and carry me about the arena (on the one hand) or shove me down and trample me under your feet (on the other hand).  I merely want to share my personal experience.

Let me say right up front that I do not think anyone should be compelled to take the vaccine if they do not wish to.  But I hope more people will choose to do so.  For me, I believe it saved my life.

Marcie’s mother had died of Covid in April 2020 while she was in a nursing home, so we knew of the disease’s sudden and deadly impact.  Because of her death, my wife and I were fully primed to receive the vaccine when it became available.

We were aware that the vaccine might only work about 9 times out of 10, meaning we were protected but not impervious.  We recognized that, due to the speed of the vaccine’s development, there was some risk of a flaw in its structure.  And as the virus mutated and morphed over time, we understood that the vaccine would need to be boosted and tweaked, just as with the flu shot each season. 

Notwithstanding these risks, we signed up for the vaccine as soon as it was available.  I consider the timely arrival of the vaccine to be truly miraculous.  The primary reason was that I have a high-risk precondition, a long-standing lung condition that made any significant threat to my lungs and respiratory system very dangerous for me. 

To explain, about 20 years ago I was mis-diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and treated with a heavy immunosuppressant called methotrexate.  That winter, due to a suppressed immune system, a simple case of bronchitis mushroomed into double pneumonia, double pleurisy, double pleural effusions, and ultimately double open-chest lung surgeries called thoracotomies (the surgeon cuts through the ribs, not the breast bone like an open chest heart surgery).  Those operations were necessary to deal with my twisted, fluid-filled lungs so they could return to their normal position.  Unfortunately, as a result of the scraping, scarring, and healing, my lungs and my pleura ended up being permanently fused together.  (I once heard the medical term for this condition, but I lost it.  If you know it, please tell me again.)  That condition reduces my lung capacity, leaves me short of breath, and makes it so I cannot run or function at high altitude.

Consequently, when the vaccine became available, I was an early adopter. Being vaccinated gave us far more confidence in returning to normal life. After a few months, to be honest, we got a bit casual about the whole Covid thing.  Like many, we were mostly blind to the arrival of the Delta variant.  That was a game-changer, greatly increasing the risk for everyone of catching Covid, including those who are vaccinated. 

Our cavalier attitude was a bad mistake.  About three weeks ago, Marcie and I both caught Covid, probably from a church meeting.  It’s been a difficult ordeal, but fortunately — and we attribute this to our vaccinations — we each had relatively mild cases.  We escaped the critical lung involvement and did not have to go to the hospital.  We isolated at home and cared for each other. The infections did not affect our breathing.   That’s a big deal for me, because if the Covid had gone to my lungs, I believe it could have caused irreparable damage.  We were prescribed steroids, cough suppressants, antibiotics for residual infections, and a handful of other meds, and we made it to the other side in one piece.  Marcie especially had some difficult symptoms, but we were always grateful we could breathe.

I’m no doctor, but my understanding is that usually the Covid virus initially attacks the head and throat areas, because the vaccine creates less residual immunity there.  In an unvaccinated person, the virus then heads for the lungs and respiratory system.  However, when a person is vaccinated, the virus does not get to the chest and the rest of the body because that’s where the vaccine has built up greater immunity.  That explanation seems to fit what we experienced.

I’m happy to report that we have now both tested negative, are feeling much better, and seem to have only a few lingering symptoms, except a tendency to enjoy long naps (although that may be a side-effect of my age and not the Covid).  We’re so thankful for family and friends who have prayed for us and who have monitored our well-being during this time.  We feel very blessed for our recovery, and we’re especially grateful we chose to get the vaccination.  If you’re still on the fence on this issue, I urge you go get vaccinated.  It may just save your life.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

WEDNESDAY WISDOM: What Kind of Farewell Party Do You Want?

 

 
WHAT KIND OF FAREWELL PARTY DO YOU WANT?

"Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." Dr. Seuss




One of my wife’s cousins recently passed away, and we respectfully attended a “celebration of his life.” He was a laid-back but very outgoing kind of fellow who mostly took life in stride. Fittingly, the farewell gathering wasn’t held at a church but instead at a sports bar, one of his favorite hang-outs. Appropriate attire was not jackets and ties, but flowered shirts and shorts or slacks.  There were no hymns and sermons; actually, there was no program of any kind, unless you can call a series of impromptu toasts a “program.” Instead, his friends and family and dozens of old high school buddies met and mingled, shared drinks and stories of him, all to the sound of rock songs on the loudspeakers in a large open room circumscribed with a dozen giant-screen TV showing baseball, soccer, golf, and the Olympics. The conversation was as loud as the music, and everyone seemed to have their favorite memory about the deceased.

In other words, it was HIS kind of party at HIS kind of place.

I’ve begun to think that, besides a religious service for us when we pass, we ought to also leave instructions for the kind of farewell party we want friends and family to attend in our memory. It’s fun to consider the possibilities . . . .

Are you a great cook, or someone who loved wonderful food? Party instructions could say: Everyone bring a special dish (along with copies of the recipe to share); the hosts will provide sampling plates, serving utensils, and appropriate beverages. Perhaps we could put together a little recipe book from the Farewell Party, including several of the best cooking tips from the dearly departed.

Are you an avid fisherman? Party instructions could say: Bring your rod and reel and tackle for a fishing tournament during the day. Equipment provided for those who don’t have their own. That evening we’ll all gather for a fish fry. Everyone will share their favorite fishing stories around the fire. Special prizes for the largest fish caught and the biggest whopper (true or not) told afterwards.

Are you an earnest gardener? Party instructions could say: Bring a trowel or small shovel and your down-and-dirty clothes because we’re going to plant 2,000 daffodil bulbs around the flower garden of the dearly departed. After the planting, we’ll have a picnic in a near-by park. (We actually did this several years ago in honor of one of my wife’s great-aunts.)

Are you a musician, or a lover of music? Party instructions could say: Bring your talent and your instrument (piano provided; piano players, please leave yours home) and let’s jam. Note: the dearly departed’s favorite genre of music should be identified in the invitation so as not to create an awkward clash of styles. Play until your fingers fall off and everyone is hoarse. Singing and dancing are definitely encouraged.  Party food provided by the hosts.

Are you big into barbeque? Party instructions could say: Bring your grills, smokers, and cookers and your favorite types of meat, and get down for some serious BBQ competition. There will be tasting and judging for best BBQ in honor of the deceased. The hosts will provide the side dishes and drinks.

Are you crazy about crafts? Party instructions could say: The dearly departed invites all her family and friends to gather for a crafting celebration with one or more of the following different types of crafts: painting/coloring, jewelry making, cross-stitch, crocheting, embroidery, friendship bracelets, knitting, macrame, needlepoint, quilting, sewing, tie-dye, calligraphy, card making, origami, papier-mâché, scrapbooking, stamping, pottery, stained glass, leatherwork, beadwork, and pressed flower craft. In other words, there will be something for everyone. If there’s any time left after all that, we’ll enjoy a light lunch.

Do you love service projects and philanthropy? Party instructions could say: To honor the dearly departed, we’ll be serving at a soup kitchen, a food pantry, or a children’s cancer hospital. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to a charity of your choice. We’ll gather later to share why we support the charities we each chose.

Are you a passionate shopper? Party instructions could say: Bring $20 and gather at the outlet mall, regular mall, or thrift shop. Guests will be challenged to buy something that is TOTALLY THEM within an hour. After the shopping spree, each shopper will present their purchases, with prizes awarded to the top three “TOTALLY THEM” purchases that are best reflective of the dearly departed. Heavy refreshments to be provided.

Are you a super sports fan? Party instructions could say: We have a block of tickets for the big game — we sure hope your team wins! Be sure to wear your team colors. Hot dogs, popcorn, pretzels, (cracker jacks?) and your favorite beverages for everyone. Later, let’s gather for a highlight reel of the dearly departed’s favorite sporting moments.

Are you a dead-serious genealogist? Party instructions could say: Bring your pedigree charts, family group sheets, and historic photographs, and let’s figure out how we’re related and who has the most interesting/roguish/distinguished ancestors. A sampling of historic foods will wind up the evening.

Do you love poetry? Party instructions could say: Have you written any poetry, or do you have a favorite piece you can recite or read? Bring to the gathering in the community room of the library, where we’ll celebrate those who have a way with poem, for better or for “verse.” There’s surely someone out there who can still recite The Cremation of Sam Magee or Casey at the Bat. Lemonade and tea cookies afterwards.

* * * * *

I could go on and on, but you get the point. Create a celebration of your life, one that will send you out in style. Let it be an event that will have everyone grateful they knew you, an occasion to remember your stories and personality. As Dr. Seuss said, let’s not cry because it’s over; let’s smile and laugh that it happened at all. Celebrate life!

* * * * *

On second thought, why should the festivities happen after we’re dead? Jeff Goldblum commented: "Amazing tradition. They throw a great party for you on the one day they know you can’t come." Let's turn that around and make it happen while we're still able to attend.  Why should WE miss all the fun? 

We shouldn’t let such a fine occasion go to waste. Garrison Keillor famously said, "They say such nice things about people at their funerals that it makes me sad to realize that I’m going to miss mine by just a few days." Why don’t we plan our own farewell party to suit our own tastes, and then invite our friends and family while we’re still alive? That way, we won’t miss all the nice things people might have to say about US.