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Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Why We Still Play the Thankful Game


Last night, for family night, we played the Thankful Game. This is a game we have played in our family for many years. We first played it when our oldest daughter was two years old. She is now married and has three children.

Do you want to know how to play it? It is about as simple of a game as you can imagine.

You sit on the living room floor and roll a ball back and forth between family members, in no particular order. Each time the ball comes your way, you say something you are grateful for.

Last night we played with three, my wife and I and our 16 year old daughter. I am so happy to have a daughter who is such a good sport—willing to play what some would consider a "little kid's game." 

I think one of the reasons why we are so eager to say thanks is how good we feel when we express genuine gratitude, especially to each other. And we play it long enough so we can be fairly thorough.

In recent years, I have gained appreciation for what I once thought were the difficult things in life. Illness, financial difficulty, suffering, trials.
And he who receiveth all things with thankfulness shall be made glorious; and the things of this earth shall be added unto him, even an hundred fold, yea, more. (D&C 78:19.)
When you face these difficulties with faith in God, trials take on tremendous value. You learn so many things from them. Suffering sanctifies. Trials teach. Financial trouble yields faith and fortitude (and ingenuity that you didn't know you had). Illness teaches compassion and patience like nothing else can.

I believe that I only have trials that I need, that they are ordained for my eternal education. Most of them I bring on myself, through ignorance or pride. Then God repackages them and turns them into learning experiences, and blesses me with them.

Trials are gifts. The wrapping paper is not very appealing, but the gifts inside are the most precious I have ever received. So, with all my heart I say, I am thankful for my trials.
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (1 Thessalonians 5:18.)
Happy Thanksgiving to every one of you. May you be blessed this holiday with peace of mind and a grateful heart.

P.S. I am so excited that I actually get to take off two days this week and spend time with my family. Hurray!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Secret in a Man's Heart

There is a secret in a man's heart. I can't tell you what is in every man's heart, but I can tell you this: every man I've asked this question—"What do you want most from your wife?"—has agreed with me when I told them what I thought it was. And I have asked a lot of men this question.

What is it?

He wants to be your hero. He wants you to think of him as your prince, your knight in shining armor. He wants you to look up to him and to respect him and to trust him. To be completely accepted by you.

He wants this just as bad as you want to be cherished and adored by him and to be the center of his world, to be the most important person in his world. More important than work or sports or any of his interests or hobbies. To be completely accepted by him.

They are kind of similar, these #1 desires, aren't they? But they are also different. If you know these desires are almost universal, you will understand a lot about men and women.

(If you disagree, man or woman, please comment on this post. I want to hear from you!)

Now from observing your husbands, you might think the thing he wants most is to watch college football, play golf, collect tools, or to be physically intimate with you.

Those things may be what is showing up when what he really wants is something else but he can't figure out how to get it.

The other thing that shows up when he can't figure out how to get what he wants is an addiction of some sort, too often these days a roller coaster addiction to pornography. (That was a simplification; a pornography addiction is way more complicated than that, but what I am talking about here will play into it.)


My wife understands the need I have to be her hero, and she encourages me endlessly to be her hero by showing and telling me how I can be.

That is what the honey-do list is about at our house. It is actually the hero list. I know that and my wife knows that.

And what is the hero list composed of? It is a list of things that (1) she doesn't know how to do; (2) are hard for her to do; (3) are too yucky or dirty or smelly for her to do; (4) are too scary for her to do; and (5) she is overwhelmed and just needs help.

That's the way it is at my house. How about yours?

If you have a hero list for your husband, and most wives do, explain in a bit of detail why you want him to do the things on your list, why he is better suited to do them than you are. It will help him if you calmly share your feelings about the things on your list.

And when he does do them, thank him genuinely and let him know you admire him for what he can do to make your life better, easier and more convenient, even if he is not perfect at it.

You will get much, much more, over time, from your husband by praising him, intreating him, persuading him, coaxing him, encouraging him, honoring him, and respecting him, than by any other method.

Positive words will inculcate positive behavior. Usually.

If your relationship is way out of balance, though, meaning that you or both of you are using negative words and actions in an attempt to get your needs met, it will take awhile to bring things back into balance again. But err on the positive side of getting things done, remembering that:
That which doth not edify [build up] is not of God and is darkness (D&C 50:23.)
You can't use darkness to bring forth light. You can bring light out of darkness, but you can't use darkness as the instrument to produce light. It just will not happen.

In conclusion let me say that my wife is a world expert at this. She really knows how to make me feel like I am her hero. If I could read to you what she wrote in my birthday card this past week, you would know what I am talking about. The little positive, appreciative things she says and does, to support me in my far flung efforts to improve our lot temporally, is what I really want and need. It is wonderful.

I doubt myself, but I don't doubt that my wife thinks of me as her hero. Knowing that in my core is what keeps me putting out my best effort, and bettering my best. And it makes it easy for me to adore her and to love her the way she wants to be loved.

Have fun with this. It is like a game! The funnest game there is, when you play it right.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How to Get Your Husband to Listen to You

Generally speaking—as if you haven't already noticed—men and women communicate a little differently. Understanding the differences is important if you want to improve communication with your spouse.

I am not saying that men and women are always miles apart in the ways they talk, but that there are notable differences. I am not saying that men are always right in the way they communicate, or that women are always right. I am going to make a few rather broad generalizations, and hoping that as we gain more understanding, we will take positive action on what we learn.

This is a continuation (sort of) of the series "The Number One Complaint I Heard from Wives." (Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of the series.)

We like to joke about these differences. And sometimes we might put the opposite sex down, especially in their absence. I don't do that and I don't like hearing things like that. I don't think it's right or smart to disparage others. I want to understand others, especially my darling wife; I want to be part of the solution, not a liability to everyone around me.

Here's a story that gives these differences in communication some perspective.

A few years ago, when our second oldest daughter was in college, she invited her roommates and friends over for a Sunday dinner. Our table was full. They are all wonderful girls. And it was a fun evening, if you were a girl.

I sat at the table as the lone male. I could not get a word in edgewise. I could not keep up with the conversation. It went too fast for me. Way too fast. Men out there, have you ever been in that spot?

Is this a bad thing? No, not at all. I just am not fast enough to keep up. I thought at the time that it was actually kind of fun. Eventually, though, I left the table and crawled into my shell someplace else in the house, probably in the basement office, my favorite man cave. 

No doubt there are some males that could keep up with the speed of that conversation, but I am not one of them, and I have yet to meet one who is. If you are male and a supersonic talker, congratulations! How do you do it?

What I have learned from this and other experiences is that I am uncomfortable communicating when all alone in a roomful or car full of females. I am more comfortable talking one-on-one with my wife or daughters, or among couples. I am sure that women often feel the same way, too, that is, they might feel uncomfortable being in a situation where they are outnumbered by men. (But there is probably a reader out there who loves it.)

Here is another example. My wife and I went up to Park City for a few nights in August. We went to the pool while we were there. Actually, we moved back and forth between the hot tub and the pool. You know, the hot and cold thing. Anyway, there were two women in the hot tub. They were talking incredibly fast. No men were involved in the conversation to slow them down, so they were talking at light speed. Inwardly, I smiled, but I still couldn't keep up.

I thought then, maybe women have to r-e-a-l-l-y s-l-o-w d-o-w-n to communicate with men. Maybe that's annoying to them. No, that's too broad of a generalization. Or is it.

I don't say any of this to deprecate men or women. There is just a difference, generally, between the way men and women think and talk. I haven't captured all the differences, but one of the reasons why a difference exists, something I have mentioned in an earlier post, is that women have 40 percent more connections between the right and left hemispheres of their brains. That means that they can jump back and forth acrobatically between them. Amazing. Useful, too.

It also means that everything is connected to everything and when she is thinking and talking she is in a limitless ocean. When men think and talk, that ocean is held in individual and varying size buckets.  

This might be one of the reasons why, as a male friend said to me recently, women can "cover a lot of ground" when they get together. I think it is a wonderful quality; I just can't participate fully. (Okay, maybe I'm just jealous or embarrassed that I can't.)

So what's my point? It's a simple one. Ladies, when you think your man is not listening to you intentionally, he may just not be able to keep up with the fast pace at which you are delivering your message.

We men like to hide out in our boxes. We have a lot of them. The work box, the laptop box, the working-in-the-garage box, the golf box, the fishing box, the horse box (I have one of those), the blog box (I am in that one right now), the fill-in-the-blank box. (Usually, things are in those boxes, not people.) When we are in one of these boxes, we have a hard time backing out of it. It takes us a while. We like to concentrate and give something intense focus. My wife understands this about me. She gives me time to get out my current box to talk to me.

I am not trying to excuse men for not listening. I am just saying there is a difference here, though it might not be universal. He might be in one of his boxes—focusing narrowly on one thing—while you are trying to talk to him, and he may, therefore, have a tough time catching or focusing on everything you say until he has time to back out of his box.

There are things you can do. 

Once when my wife really wanted my attention and she see saw that I was distracted, she held my face between her hands and forced me to make eye contact with her. I remember when she did this. It was when our youngest daughter was small. She had to go away and wanted to make sure I attended to our little girl's needs while she couldn't.

It struck me as a tender thing. I didn't feel put down when she did it. I think it was pretty cute, actually. And I got out of my box and listened.

Just last Friday when I was at work and we were chatting online, my wife asked, "Do I have your face?" We both know what that means, especially since we have been talking about it over the last little while.

Two other things that wake me up and get me into listening mode is when (1) my wife addresses me by name ("Mike?") and waits until she sees my ears and eyes pointed in her direction before proceeding; and (2) she asks for my attention directly and won't continue until she has it (but she doesn't do this in a bossy way).

So, these three things my wife does help me give her my full attention: Hands around face (my favorite), addressing me by name, openly and directly asking for my attention.

In addition to this, let me say that it's not my wife's job to get me to listen and pay proper attention to her. I know it is the best and rarest compliment to give someone your full, sustained attention. It is a great gift, especially when it is voluntary. The need for attention from others, and all that it implies, is among the deepest human needs.Without it, we shrivel and die, first inwardly and then outwardly.

That is why I try to give others this kind of attention. I try to give my wife this kind of attention every day. Nothing says "I love you" like giving someone your intense interest and attention.

I have a lot to learn about how to communicate better with my wife. But it is fun game, and now that I know a few of the rules, it's even more fun.

I am not saying women are better communicators than men. But I will say that I think women are often but not always better at communicating their feelings than men, and that it is frustrating to wives when their husbands clam up and won't talk about what is going on inside of them. That was the number one complaint I heard as bishop: men not talking, especially about their feelings.

Wives can't force their husbands to talk, but they can draw them out. They can persuade them and encourage them. They are not powerless to change their situations. They may be frustrated—and I don't blame them—but they are not powerless. My wife has ways of getting my attention and drawing me out. She does it gently, so I trust her. She is safe to talk to, and she hears more about my feelings than she used to because of it.

I still have a long way to go, but I am making progress.

Monday, November 14, 2011

My Primary Kids and My Birthday

A few weeks after being released as bishop a year ago (can you believe it has been a year?) I was called as a Primary teacher for our ward's Valiant 9 class.

It had been 1992 that I was last a Primary teacher. It's been a long time since I taught such a young age group and I have absolutely loved it. I really mean that. I have a wonderful Primary class and it such a blessing to be their teacher. I can't wait to be with them on Sundays.

So I have a birthday this month and yesterday I got called up front during Sharing Time so the kids in senior Primary could sing "You've Had a Birthday." Red faced. Looking at the floor. That was me. I don't relish that kind of attention, but it was good to be in the kid's shoes for a switch.

Anyway, after I sat down, I quietly asked the kids how old they thought I was going to be. The first girl I asked said she thought I would turn 28 and instantly became my new BFF, but after she heard a few other kids guess, she upped her estimate to 48. Smart girl, and still my BFF.

One boy guessed that I would be 70 to 80. Ha ha ha! Can you see why I love being around these kids?

Four guesses were in the 60s, three in the 50s, three in the 40s and one was off the chart (70 to 80). Anyway, I averaged the guesses and they were quite close to the right age. The average was 56.3 and my actual age is 54.

Only five weeks left teaching these adorable kids. Then it will be Christmas and then on to a new year and a new adventure.

I have a hard time with change. I am not looking forward to it. I know I will miss these kids a lot.

A lot.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

My Personal Day of Decision

Last Sunday, we sang "I Stand All Amazed" for our sacrament hymn as my wife led the music. As I sat next to our daughter in the congregation, I remembered the first time I ever sang that hymn.

I was a teenager and investigating the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to the horror and disapproval of my parents. I attended that evening meeting at the invitation of a close friend who had joined the Church five months earlier. It was at the Gabriel Park Ward in Portland, Oregon. It was the first time I had ever attended a sacrament meeting.

I don't remember what the opening or closing hymns were, but for some reason I remember that hymn by Charles H. Gabriel:
I stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me,
Confused at the grace that so fully he proffers me.
I tremble to know that for me he was crucified,
That for me, a sinner, he suffered, he bled and died.
I had attended church with my family my entire life, but the peace and stillness I felt at that meeting was different than anything I had ever experienced. A young couple spoke. I don't remember their names, but I had never heard such faith, commitment and reverence over the pulpit before. Somehow, I was transformed, changed forever. That was my day of decision. It was Sunday, October 12, 1975.

I made my way home to our ranch where I lived some 60 or 70 miles south of Portland. My dad was home alone. (My mother, who was bedridden, was away for her annual check up.) He nervously asked me if I went to Church that day. When I told him I had gone to the "Mormon Church," all heck broke lose. What I felt at sacrament meeting was tested to it's full dimension.

My father, who happened to be drunk at the time, maligned the Church with all his wit and power. With a cigarette in one hand and glass of Scotch whiskey in the other, he said, "I'm ashamed before God." But I controverted him and within a matter of minutes, I was kicked out of the house, banished to the blackness of the night.

I loaded a few meager belongings up, and drove back to Portland. I didn't know what my fate would be, but at that moment, I thought I was cast into outer darkness by my father for recognizing the brightest light I had ever seen. But I did not despair. I felt a wonderful comfort that was both familiar and unfamiliar. Somehow, I knew I was doing the right thing. I knew I had taken a stand for my new found faith. It was a small faith, like a mustard seed, but it was growing fast.

Two days later, I met my future wife Cristi for the first time. I went to early morning seminary with my friend who had invited me to Church. Cristi was sitting with her sister on my left and she about knocked me out with her beauty. Later, Cristi told me that her sister said after seminary, "He's just an old cowboy." I don't suppose I was much to look at that day, but I am grateful that beautiful girl was kind to me, and ultimately, took a chance on me.

Within a few weeks, I was baptized and confirmed into the Church. A year after that, I went on a mission, and within seven months after returning home off that mission, I married that girl I met in seminary in the Manti Temple. We have (nearly) raised three beautiful daughters together and just celebrated our 32nd anniversary in August. We have a very happy marriage, though we have had many trials together. Maybe it's the trials that make (or break) a marriage.

I am grateful for that fateful day in October 1975. It has made all the difference. It has not been an easy road. It has been a long road, but it has been the right road for me. Joy has always overshadowed the pain and sacrifice.

I am grateful that I made my commitment to follow my Heavenly Father that day, even though it was one of the most difficult days of my life. It has been 36 years ago now, but He has never let me down. I'll never forget that day, nor that hymn.
Oh, it is wonderful that he should care for me,
Enough to die for me.
Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

How Our Family Does Scripture Study

How are you doing with your scripture study as a family? Are you holding it? If you clicked on this link, I suppose you are interested in studying the scriptures as a family. We have done it since our children were young. We cannot be held up as a perfect example, but we never give up.

When our oldest daughter was young, we would read a scripture story to her each night from one of the scripture readers, such as Book of Mormon Stories, and then at least one verse from her own copy of the Book of Mormon. She had a set of scripture markers; they were kind of like crayons. We would let her mark the verse we read herself, though it was messy business. It was a wonderful adventure seeing these stories from a child's eyes. I remember she called the Lamanites "the guys with the yucky panties."

When the children got older and were able to read, we would gather in the living room, usually in the evening, and each take turns reading verses of scripture. The younger readers took more time, of course, to read their passage, but it was worth the wait. We would tackle the whole Book of Mormon or the whole New Testament over a year.

One of the things we have struggled with is just reading scriptures dryly, without any discussion or commentary, so for several years, we have not been reading just books of scripture but have been following the course of study for the Sunday School. This year it's the New Testament.

We have a member of the family take the lead in our study for a week. When I take the lead, I am called the "scripture boss." When my wife leads, we call her the "scripture diva." And our daughter likes to be called the "scripture commando." Did you guess she is a teenager.

We follow the assignments for the lessons found in the New Testament Class Member Study Guide. This week we will be studying the Epistle of James. It has 108 verses. That's a least 16 verses a day for the week. We'll aim to read 6 verses each a day (18 a day) and then talk about what we read. We usually read before bedtime which is the time that works well for us.

Other than prayer, temple and Church attendance, nothing has been more healing to me than reading the scriptures. I got into the daily reading habit when I was a teenager, and that has been one constant that has been with me throughout my life.

It's not so much the black and white on the page as it is what I feel and experience when I read the words on the page. And it is more than what I feel: it is a mind, body and spirit connection, a heavenly connection, that is critically important to surviving and thriving in this confusing world. Nothing has given me more hope. Nothing has given me more peace.

All of our children are independent scripture readers with a regular habit. We didn't have to force this on them. They picked it up because they wanted to. We are very proud of them all.

If you don't have this habit in your family, I highly recommend it. Why not start or restart today?

P.S. For tips on scripture marking, see an earlier post on "Scripture Marking Success."