Sunday, May 25, 2008

Personal Moments of Glory

Fame. Fortune. Glory. How many of us have dreamed about achieving these for ourselves? In truth, reaching the pinnacle of success is an elusive goal, one which few reach. However, the reality is each and every one of us have personal moments of success, in which we can embrace these euphoric feelings, if only for the briefest of moments.

Recently, I attended a Utah Blaze arena football game with my children Kaylee, Braden, Alyssa and Jason, as well as 4 of Jason's friends. We were celebrating Jason's birthday. Our tickets came to us via Jason's aunt Emily, who is doing an internship with the Blaze. The free nature of the tickets made the experience sweet in and of itself!

Just before the game, Emily called to invite me to participate in a tug of war contest at the end of the 3rd quarter. The idea of going down in front of thousands of people did not really intrigue me. However, she mentioned a free jersey, and I was in! Being the resourceful father I am, I immediately asked if Kaylee and Braden could also take part. Even though the participants were supposed to be 18 and older, Emily said Kaylee and Braden were on the team. We were all in! It was at this point, when we were committed, that Emily broke the news that only the winning team would get jerseys. I had this feeling of panic come over me. It would be me, my 16 year old daughter and 15 year old son, up against what would most likely be three, 20 something year old men, hopped up on adrenaline and Budweiser. We would be lucky to survive. A vision came to me, of my shoulder being torn from my body, Kaylee with missing fingers and Braden lying in a pool of blood. This would not be pretty.

We stewed about our upcoming death match for the entire first three quarters of the game. Finally, like the innocent going to the Roman coliseum floor to face the lions, we marched down to the arranged meeting place. My eyes scanned the people around me, looking for the three behemoths we would be facing. Braden was still optimistic, Kaylee looked like she might be sick. Finally we saw the other team. A feeling of power washed over me......

The other team was composed of a young woman, a bit older than Kaylee but definitely shorter and weaker. That's one for our team!

There was a tall young man. He was older and a bit taller than Braden, but Braden has been training hard for our upcoming race, so I had confidence in his legs. That's two for the home team! Our fate would rest in my personal matchup......

There he stood, all 5 feet something of him. I hulked over him, like some sort of twisted Goliath vs. David reenactment. Only this time, I'd put my money on the big guy. I must have outweighed him by over a hundred pounds, and my own legs have been churning out miles and miles of training for years now.

The quarter ended, and we were led to the arena floor. My mind was definitely lost in the moment. I was unaware of the cameras on me. I could not hear the thousands of spectators. One would think I might have even noted the Blaze cheerleaders, but this was not the case. My mind was focused on one thing only, and that was the yellow rope at my feet.

My game face on, I reached down and entwined my right arm into the rope. Two times wrapped around my arm. That should do the trick. My left hand caught up the slack. I leaned back, firmly planting my right leg slightly to my back, my left leg positioned like an iron rod to my front. I didn't hear anyone say "go!". I felt the rope go completely tight, and it was on!

I took first one step backward, then two. Then we stalled, neither team making headway. The other team was nearly sitting on the floor, they were leaning back so far. This was not going to be easy. Kaylee relaxed for a moment, and we took one small step forward. She looked back at me, her eyes pleading for help. It was then that I went into the zone.

I played the other team like a fish on a hook. I leaned forward to give the rope a little play, then took two quick steps backward. I did this again, and we made more headway. The girl on the other team gave up and let go. We had them. I powered back more and more, and soon it was over. The other team was defeated, and we were victorious! I razed my arms in triumph, letting out a primal yell to announce the king of this jungle had arrived!

It was then that the flow of blood was restored to my hands. The pain was awful. I could not easily bend my fingers, and my left hand had rope slivers all over in it. I was sweating, my arms ached and my legs felt a bit tired. This truly had been an epic battle. Kaylee, Braden and I collected our jerseys, and ascended the stairs in triumph. A flurry of text messages ensued, as we each eagerly wanted to share our story of battle and conquest. This had been a personal moment of glory for all three of us. A simple football game sideshow, with little or no importance to anyone but the six participants, had turned into something great for Kaylee, Braden and myself. It will be a story that will live on in family lore, which might even grow as the years pass.

Take what life gives you, and celebrate your own moments of glory. It's what makes life fun!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

I was recently asked to speak at my church for Mother's Day. To be honest, sometimes I panic. I do not always make good split second decisions. In hind sight, when the Bishop asked me to speak, I could have come up with any number of excuses. Saying a prayer last week for Sacrament meeting – piece of cake. But speaking, on Mother's day? There is such a high potential for disaster. I am not a gifted public speaker. I tend to ramble and not be coherent. I could end up embarrassing not only myself, but my wife, mother in law, daughters, mother, oldest sister, who knows who all could go down on this personal Titanic of mine?

A quick research of Mother's Day reveals that almost every society has a desire to revere and honor Mothers. It might be called something a bit different, or fall on a different day or even last more than one day, but some sort of annual celebration of Mothers occurs in almost every nation. What is it about Mothers that brings about this desire to honor them?

If you look at men in general, we are one step from reverting back to cavemen. We have a need for mothering throughout our lives. This motherly influence can come from many different women. Not only do we receive this from our own mothers, but it can come from mothers-in-law, daughters, wives and sisters. What is it about these remarkable women that make them so crucial to each and every one of us?

Mothers are blessed with unconditional love. A very good example of this to me is my wifes Grandma Orton. Grandma Orton had several children. As with all families, each of them was unique and had their own challenges. One son was challenged by poor decisions as a youth. He was caught up in a life cycle that drew him away from the church and the blessings of the gospel. Grandma Orton used to frequently say that if she continued to love him he'd come back. She continued to support him and show him a Mothers love. As his life choices brought him down to humility, she was there for him. As he began to journey back towards God, she was there for him. I remember well the day he went through the Jordan River temple. There, surrounded once again by family and the light of the gospel, we could all see how right Grandma Orton had been. A mother's love had helped a son get back on the path of salvation.

Mothers accept us, no matter what our physical or mental disabilities might be. There is a Disney movie from the late 1990s about a boy named Tarzan. In a tragic accident, Tarzan loses both parents while he is still a baby. Tarzan is found by an ape mother named Kala. Kala takes one look at this baby, and realizes he needs a mother. Despite her husbands outrage and the other apes ridicule and scorn, she takes this baby in as her own. She didn't care that Tarzan looked different or didn't have the same traits as the rest of the ape babies. She loved him. She nurtured him and taught him the best she could. Tarzan survived, and as we know eventually became king of the jungle. All because he had a loving mother who accepted him.

Mother's are protective. My wife had a brother named Bryan. Bryan was born with cerebral palsy. His case was very severe. He had basically no physical abilities. He could not speak. The easy thing to do would have been to put him in an institution, or simply keep him at home. This was not the life Bryan would live. His mother dedicated her life to him. Bryan was cared for constantly by a loving mother. He was treated just like any other child. His mother scheduled her life around him. He was never left alone or wanted for anything. The family home was built to accommodate him. The family vehicles were specialized to allow him and his array of wheelchairs to fit. His mother made sure he went to school. When he became too old for school, she found other programs and activities for him. He attended institute as an adult. It was not easy to take care of Bryan. He had to be lifted onto a special table to be cared for. He had to be fed several times a day. He did not sleep well, and had many sleepless nights. His mother never wavered, never complained. Bryan was her life, her pride and joy. Despite his condition, Bryan enjoyed a quality and length of life few would have predicted. When Bryan recently passed away, his mother was devastated and lost. Those who did not know her or the details of her relationship might have imagined she would have felt relief at this time, like a burden had been lifted. In fact, one of her greatest joys had passed. What a wonderful example of protection, of service, of unconditional love.

Mothers are tough. They can do things that seem almost impossible. When our daughter Alyssa was very young, she came down with chicken pox. For most people, this is not a huge ordeal. For Alyssa, who is blessed with the ability to take even a common cold and turn it into an ordeal, it became life threatening. The chicken pox went into her lungs, which caused pneumonia, which landed her in the hospital, clinging to life. For 3 weeks she underwent treatments and surgeries. Most of this time was spent in the ICU. For all but one day, her mother was by her side 24 hours a day. I don't know if any of you have tried to sleep overnight in an ICU, but it is not a quiet, restful place. It seems the nurses are constantly coming in. Alarms are going off, monitors are beeping. Add to this a young child who is sick and scared, and you are not getting any sleep. Lori maintained this sleep deprived schedule for 3 weeks. I attempted to spell her off for one night. After that, I went home and basically collapsed. I then came down with a bad cold, just from one night. It was then that I realized my wife was indeed a lot tougher than I am. She showed me this once again when Traven joined our family. He contracted whooping cough at one month of age. He was in Primary Children's Hospital for nearly a month. Once again, Lori showed me the toughness of a mother. She was with him constantly. I think this time was even harder, since she was further away from the support of her family. Also, the parent beds at Primary Children's just aren't as comfy as the ones at Mountain View. And the number of beeping alarms and caregivers is dramatically higher up there. She did not complain, she did not waiver. She cared for Traven up there, and of course the story had a happy ending.

Mothers are supportive. Growing up, I was heavily involved in sports and music. I had many early and late practices, games, concerts and other events. Since I grew up in the small community of Milton in Morgan county, I did not have a lot of options for the 5 mile trip to school. I never had to ask. Despite the earliness or lateness of my schedule, my mother was there to drive me. She had breakfast ready in the early mornings, and she had dinner ready for me regardless of the hour we would get home. I'm sure she had other things she could have done, like sleep in another hour or two. But she was there to support me.

Mothers are also smart and clever. There was a time when we were chosen for some government survey. I don't recall the details, but I remember the good stuff. The agency called to set a time to come over and complete the survey with us. Lori wanted to get the house presentable, and on this occasion the children were not being overly helpful. Despite her gentle efforts to get them to clean up their rooms and put away their clothes and toys, it just wasn't happening. She came up with a clever idea. She told them that the appointment was really with the health department. They had heard how messy our house was, and were coming to inspect it. If it wasn't clean, well then who knows what might happen? Toys might be hauled away, the home condemned or for one particularly rebellious young boy, children might even be hauled away. Now, I'm not saying this deception should be practiced by all mothers, but in this case it did get the job done, and quickly. That was one clean, organized house. Of course, Lori did tell them the truth at some point, and we all laughed about it and watched a movie together as a family afterwards.

Mothers are brave. Have you all heard the story about a baby named Dumbo? When the people at the circus were making fun of Dumbo, his mother stood up for him. The odds were against her. She was greatly outnumbered, and she must have known she would lose. But she was brave. She did the best she could to protect her baby. She knew the consequences. She was going to end up locked up a crazy elephant, but she did not care. Here baby came first, despite the consequences.

Mothers are brutally honest when it is needed. A favorite story of mine comes from a friend at work. As a youngster, he discovered he had a talent with penmanship. As with many abilities, he had a choice of using it for good or evil. He established a little school yard business for himself. If a student needed a parent's signature on a bad grade, or an absence excused, well my friend took care of that for a small fee. This went on for a few weeks, until the principal caught on. Of course, sending a note home with my friend would not really accomplish much, so a phone call was made. The wise principal left it up to my friend's mother to dish out the punishment. Remember, this was back in the days when a good paddling was standard for bad behavior. You should also keep in mind that this took place in the rough section of a big city, so criminal activity and jail time wer sadly very common. My friends mother wished to impress upon him that she expected better out of him. She waited patiently, hiding behind the front door, for her son to get home, a paddle in her hand. He never saw her coming. When all was said and done, her message had been sent. I don't know that my friend ever got in any type of trouble after that.

In an attempt to contribute something somewhat spiritual in nature to this talk, I'd like to end by reviewing some points from the first presidency message from the April 1998 Ensign. The message was titled “Behold Thy Mother”. In it, we were challenged to consider four types of mothers: first, mother forgotten; second, mother remembered; third, mother blessed; and finally, mother loved.

As President Monson pointed out in the message, mother forgotten is observed all too frequently. President Monson said “The nursing homes are crowded, the hospital beds are full, the days come and go—often the weeks and months pass—but mother is not visited. Can we not appreciate the pangs of loneliness, the yearnings of a mother’s heart, when hour after hour, alone in her age, she gazes out the window for the loved one who does not visit, the letter the postman does not bring? She listens for the knock that does not sound, the telephone that does not ring, the voice she does not hear. How does such a mother feel when her neighbor welcomes gladly the smile of a son, the hug of a daughter, the glad exclamation of a child, “Hello, Grandmother!” end quote

He continues: “There are yet other ways we forget mother. Whenever we fall, whenever we do less than we ought, in a very real way we forget mother.

I recall talking to the proprietress of a nursing home. From the hallway where we stood, she pointed to several elderly women assembled in a peaceful living room. She observed, “There’s Mrs. Hansen. Her daughter visits her every week, right at 3:00 p.m. on Sunday. To her right is Mrs. Peek. Each Wednesday there is a letter in her hands from her son in New York. It is read, then reread, then saved as a precious piece of treasure. But see Mrs. Carroll: her family never telephones, never writes, never visits. Patiently she justifies this neglect with words that are heard but do not convince or excuse: ‘They are all so busy.’ ”

Shame on all who thus make of a noble woman “mother forgotten.”

“Hearken unto thy father that begat thee,” wrote Solomon, “and despise not thy mother when she is old.” 2 Can we not make, of a mother forgotten, a mother remembered?” end quote

With regards to mother remembered, Pres. Monson pointed out that, when we remember our mothers, we are less likely to yield to evil and bad behavior. He related a story from the Civil War, in which a regiment of men were gathered together for a champagne supper. Most of the men were becoming quite intoxicated. One man, who was well liked among the group but chose to abstain from such activities, was called upon to offer a toast. This was done in jest of course, given that the young man did not drink. He rose and stated “Gentlemen, I will give you a toast which you may drink as you will, but which I will drink in water. The toast that I have to give is, ‘Our mothers.’ ” Instantly, a strange spell fell upon the group, as mothers and their influence were recalled. The drinking stopped, the boisterous behavior ended and one by one the men left the room.

For mother blessed, President Monson offered a beautiful, reverent example. In Luke chapter 7, verses 11 – 15 we read:

“And it came to pass … that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.

“Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.

“And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.

“And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.

“And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.” 3

President Monson stated “What power, what tenderness, what compassion did our Master and Exemplar thus demonstrate! We, too, can bless if we will but follow His noble example. Opportunities are everywhere. Needed are eyes to see the pitiable plight, ears to hear the silent pleadings of a broken heart. Yes, and a soul filled with compassion, that we might communicate not only eye to eye or voice to ear, but in the majestic style of the Savior, even heart to heart. Then every mother everywhere will be “mother blessed.” end quote

Mother loved. This is the last type of mother listed in the message. A well-known poem by Joy Allison is titled “Which Loved Best?”

“I love you, Mother,” said little John;
Then, forgetting his work, his cap went on,
And he was off to the garden swing,
And left her the water and wood to bring.

“I love you, Mother,” said rosy Nell—
“I love you better than tongue can tell”;
Then she teased and pouted full half the day,
Till her mother rejoiced when she went to play.

“I love you, Mother,” said little Fan;
“Today I’ll help you all I can;
How glad I am that school doesn’t keep!”
So she rocked the babe till it fell asleep.

Then, stepping softly, she fetched the broom,
And swept the floor and tidied the room;
Busy and happy all day was she,
Helpful and happy as a child could be.

“I love you, Mother,” again they said,
Three little children going to bed;
How do you think that Mother guessed
Which of them really loved her best?

On this day we celebrate Mothers, may we each challenge ourselves to be mindful of our mothers, not just today but every day. May we be mindful that one of the best ways to show our mothers love is through respect and by obedience to their wise teachings. May we each reach out and show kindness and love to all the mothers around us, in particular to those that might find themselves lonely or wanting. Let us each do our part to reduce the number of mothers forgotten and make more mothers remembered, blessed and loved.