Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The Last Time I Lost My Temper

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It was a hot day in July.

(Don't all blog posts about losing your temper start with "It was a hot day in July"?)

We were getting ready for a cross-country trip, and were in a rush to stain wood for a finish carpenter who would be working in our basement while we were away. That same day, I had a reaction to an antibiotic, ran a 102 degree fever, and broke out in hives. And I also had an infuriating phone conversation with the cable company that afternoon. Woe was little me.

Then something came up between Cristi and me—I haven't the slightest recollection of what it was—and I totally lost my cool. I was yelling like a gutshot soldier. My journal entry about that day reads, "I don't ever remember being so out of control or yelling so loud." In my wrath and self-righteous drama, I stormed out of the house and slammed the front door with a thunderous clap.

In a matter of moments, two things happened that changed my life forever.

First, over my shoulder and through the window of our front door, I saw a large glicée painting of Christ that hung in our living room fall to the floor. I did not go back in to pick it up. How could I reenter the exhaust fumes of my rage?

Second, as I was almost to my car, our daughter Amy, who had just been baptized a few days before, came out on the front porch in tears and said, "Daddy, where are you going?"

I don't remember what my answer was, but I have never forgotten the question. "Daddy, where are you going?"

When I got the courage to return home, I picked the picture of Christ up off the living room floor and rehung it. Even though it had fallen four or five feet, the frame and canvas had suffered no damage. Not a scratch. The picture of Christ was as sound as the day it was hung, but my self-esteem hung—sagged really—in shreds.

When I thought of the damage I had inflicted on myself and others that day, I gulped down my shame and pride with a painful swallow.

I have been angry and upset many times since then, but I have never lost my temper.

That was July 16, 1993. A day of personal infamy. I will never forget that day, nor the picture of Christ, untouched by human fury, and the tenderest question I have ever heard, "Daddy, where are you going?"

I was a changed man.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

A Story for Mother's Day

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In his address to the graduating class of Utah Valley University on May 1, President Thomas S. Monson mentioned the story of Elgin Staples, who was blown off the deck of the USS Astoria in early August 1942, during the Battle of Savo Island.

Just as his ship came under attack, he fortunately had the forethought to strap on his life belt, which he inflated after hitting the water. Four hours later, he was pulled aboard an American destroyer from shark infested waters.

Because of his wounds, he was granted 30 days of leave, so he went home to Akron, Ohio to visit his mother.

While there, he pointed out that the life belt that saved him was made right in his hometown of Akron at the Firestone Tire and Rubber Company. That was where his mother had started working after he left for the service.

He grabbed his life belt—which he hung onto as a souvenir—from his duffel bag to show his mom. They noticed the inspector number on the belt. His mom's eyes and mouth opened wide with surprise. She said, "Son, I'm an inspector at Firestone. This is my inspector number."

Half a world a way, a life belt, manufactured in his mom's plant, and inspected by her, had saved his life. What a moment that must have been.

To the moms out there: Never underestimate the power of your impact. You never know who you are going to save.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

One Week to Live?

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What if you sat in your doctor's office today, and he told you rather gravely that you had only one week to live? What would you do?

Most of us would panic. I would. But after the initial shock wore off, what would you really want to do? Would you keep the news to yourself or would you tell everyone? Will we hear about it on your Facebook status line, over the phone, in person?

Would you want to make any personal visits to family or old friends? If so, what would be the first thing out of your mouth? Would you make an apology? return something you borrowed from them? finally "give them a piece of your mind"?

How about the phone calls? Is there anyone you'd want to call? Is there anyone you would be reluctant to call? What would you say?

Would you make a rushed trip to Disneyland? Paris? Rio de Janeiro? the temple? Would you stay home and catch up in your journal? or clean out your bedstand drawers before anyone noticed what's in them?

Most of all, who would you want to make peace with, other than with God or yourself? What unfinished business would you be eager to take care of? Would you make a past-due appointment with your bishop, or would you have something to tell your spouse?

Staring up at the horizon of eternity, what would be on your mind?

If there is something unsaid or undone that you would feel motivated to do then, why not do it now?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Your Wife's Greatest Enemy

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Some words for the husbands, again.

In high school and college, one of the things your wife probably enjoyed most was a Friday or Saturday night out with good friends. Talking. Good food. Fun, games and activities. More talking. Something new, different, and spontaneous, a break from the grinding monotony of studies, work, or being stuck at home or in her apartment. (More talking.)

Then you came along, and it was even more fun to go out on a weekend. The adventure of dating. The unfolding mystery of a new relationship. Laughter and fun. Little surprises. Feeling special. She wanted nothing more than to be with you. You pursued her and courted her. And she liked that a lot. She felt wanted and needed. She felt important, like she was the crown princess to a new kingdom that was about to be born.

You put on your best clothes and cologne. You washed your car, even borrowed cars better than your own. You tried to look and act responsibly, like you knew where you were going. She liked that, too. You did whatever you could to impress her, to entice her, and to ultimately marry you.

Being newlyweds was awesome. For a while, you were on a perennial date. Still, very little separated you. There were new discoveries about your bride and about yourself. When you were apart for a time, you came together like a spring stretched to its limit. Everything was new and exciting. You became one.

Then long hours at school and in the library. Temporary or short-term jobs. The first child. Rent, utilities, student loans. More children. Barked knuckles while trying to repair your own car. Finally, graduation. A real job. Insurance. Being apart more and more, everyday and for longer periods. Business travel. Dinner with clients. Home late and up early. All in the name of taking care of your family.

Then, particularly for your wife, along came the blues. You are gone so much, and when the weekend comes, you just want to collapse. You are less and less available to her, emotionally and physically. The more she begs to have her needs met, the more you shrink back—because by now, she's hurt and lashing out.

And she feels alone and isolated. Trapped in her own home, or trapped in a cycle of child care, or work, or figuring out what to make for dinner. The loneliness and isolation are her greatest enemy, the seedbed of frustration, anger and depression—opening her vulnerability. Pushing strollers around the block with a friend is a nice diversion, but she wants more. She wants you. Most of all, she wants you to want her.

So what do you do about it?

The answer is simple: Never stop dating her. Never stop courting her. Never stop letting her know how important she is to you.

The temple ceremony was wonderful, but that is not what really seals an eternal relationship. What seals a relationship forever is the Holy Spirit of promise. That Spirit sanctifies faith and faithfulness, openness, honesty, kindness, thoughtfulness and sacrifice in a marriage. That Spirit broods over a marriage that keeps trying, keeps forgiving, that keeps the light of affection and romance burning.

Brethren, your wife may be purchased—if I can use that term—with only one price: everything. If you are trying to buy her at a discount, that is not good enough and not worthy of her. It will never be good enough to win her love forever.

So take her on a date. Tonight, and as often as you can. Let her know by your thoughtfulness and your actions that she still is your cutest girlfriend. Call her and say, "Just be ready at 6. I've taken care of the babysitter, and everything else." It doesn't have to be an elaborate or expensive date, just one where she has your full attention.

When she really feels like she is more important to you than anything or anyone else, you will be surprised at how happy she will be, and how happy she will be with you.

Never give up, never stop trying.