Tuesday, February 19, 2013

of Faith and Nerf

On this particular day in late December our little cottage in the canyon was packed to the brim. We had 13 humans all crammed in together and you couldn't step anywhere with out squishing something or someone. It was AWESOME! This particular morning the air was charged withe anticipation because we were prepping for the great and dreadful NERF WAR. I had crawled into the depths of the closet under the stairs which my brother referred to as the "slasher closet", and truthfully really did look like something out of a slasher movie, and pulled forth (cue the angelic chorus) "THE ALL POWERFUL BUCKET OF NERF".

Now it may look like a simple 5 gallon Home Depot contractors bucket, but I promise, within it's depths lies so much more. It contains finely studied ammunition and weaponry. It represents hours of target practice (shooting the dogs) and detailed studies of aerodynamics ("look at how the darts go behind the frig when I hold it like this"). And most of all it symbolizes the most fun we have at Christmas time. I hate to say it but if asked, I bet my kids would vote to save the bucket of Nerf over the Christmas tree with out blinking an eye.

My 3 grandsons, 4, 6 and 8 years old, were crazy with anticipation, unlike the rest of the family who were still asleep, so I set about to give them something that would keep them entertained for a while. Out of old foam core boards from assorted abandoned art projects I cut 3 shields. I was even so awesome as to fit the shields with pieces of waistband elastic (leftover from Christmas PJ's) so the boys could slip the shields onto their arm. I handed the boys each a shield and the washable markers and let them go to town. I did learn washable markers don't adhere all that well to the slick surface of the foam core, and before long there was some smearing, but what the heck, it was all washable, right? At leasts that's what I said to their mom when she saw their faces and hands coverered with red, blue and green ink.

Finally after much pleading from the littles, the bigs were dragged out of bed, fed and pushed into assorted cars. We arrived at our nearby church where we had the building to ourselves. Teams were drawn up and rules were made that pretty much no one followed and for over an hour sanctioned mayhem prevailed. Squeeling, laughing and a massive amount of darts flying in all directions. Except me, it was my job to hold the sleeping newborn baby of course. They began with assorted strategies but for the most part they just shot each other until they ran out of ammo and then reloaded and started again. The only rule that they adhered to was that if you got hit you had to "die", meaning throw yourself on the floor for ten seconds before you could get up again. Most "deaths" were award winning in their theatrics and never lasted a full 10 seconds and somehow the dead person had managed to completely reload at the end of their brief visit to the great beyond.

Truth be told, I would choose the bucket over the tree if anyone asked.

This last week I was getting ready to sing with my 4-11 year olds in church and was thinking about what we do to protect ourselves spiritually. I got to thinking back on the shields that I made with my grandsons. I hadn't paid much attention to it at the time, but the shields were pretty much abandoned after about ten minutes. It seems to me that it just took too much coordination to hold up the shield while trying to shoot everyone within range. To be watching the enemy and aiming and shooting took up most of everyone's concentration. To be able to swing up that arm and fend off incoming darts at the same time would have taken more practice than the once a year we have our Nerf war.

So on Sunday I told the kids that story and explained that we could look at that shield as if it were our faith (see D&C 27:15-18). Our faith can shield us from so much that could harm us, but we are going to have to practice. We need to exercise our faith every day if we are going to balance all that comes and goes in our lives.

Then we sang this song:
"Faith is knowing the sun will rise, lighting each new day.
Faith is knowing the Lord will hear my prayers each time I pray.
Faith is like a little seed if planted it will grow.
Faith is a swelling within my heart, when I do right I know."

My own faith has shielded me time and time again. There have been some pretty good darts that have come my way, and a handful of times when they have come from all directions. And let me tell you I have given some award winning performances myself as I have throw myself to the ground, sure this dart or that may have been my undoing. But for some reason I never abandonded my sheild. And my shield never abandoned me.

So what if I had to choose between the three, bucket, tree or shield? I'll choose the sheild. Even if I have to practice.

Monday, February 4, 2013

If Only I Had Eyes To See

This is a little something about the Christmas that I understood the first Christmas a little better...

It had been a busy day, that day in December 1985, with two small children sentenced to stay inside a tiny bungalow by the winter's cold chill. Now as the day drew to a close the young mom was finally having a quiet moment. The four year old had finally stopped asking how many "sleeps" until Santa came and the three year old that she was rocking had finally settled down. The young mom's gentle back and forth motion belied the activity of her mind as she ran over all of the things she still hoped to achieve before Christmas Day.

Between the ages of 12 and 18 she had faithfully attended over 300 Young Women’s meetings, full of focus and preparation for her future self and potential family life. During those years she had been a regular at the Annual Festival of Trees, where she had gathered a mountain of magical ideas for traditions to create when she had a family. Now that she had a family, the reality was the actually wanted to be fed and nurtured more than decorated and paraded.

She sighed. At this rate she wouldn't even be able to wrap packages before 2 am Christmas morning. In her mind's eye she saw herself running out of wrapping paper and grabbing for anything that would do: the sports section, paper towels, last year's gas and electric bills. She knew she was being unrealistic, but she wanted her little world to be as magical as the Festival of Trees. She wanted her tree perfectly trimmed, gifts wrapped with huge bows, cinnamon sticks, berries and maybe even a live kitten, or at least a gerbil.

The Christmas tape that had been playing made a popping noise as it came to the end, and gingerly the young mom got up from the couch that had belonged to at least a dozen family members before ending up in her front room. She started to tip toe down the hall, so as not to wake the young husband as he lay settled down for his long winters nap. Then she remembered that since the procurement of the white noise machine, now humming away on the nightstand next to her husband’s head, Santa and his sleigh could have hosted a party in their front room for several hundred, and her "wake at the drop of a pin" husband wouldn’t stir.

But lately the young wife worried that that machine might be doing it’s job just a little too well. Last Sunday they had run into Myrtle and Emmet Greenwell in the hall at the ward house. Emit and Myrtle’s back yard met their backyard, and they had been wonderful neighbors since the young couple had moved into the neighborhood. Emit always called before cranking up some power tool to make sure that neither of the little ones were napping. Myrtle had brought over a crocheted sweater for the littlest one. Last year when the fence between their two yards needed to be repaired, Emit patted the young husband and said that he would handle the whole thing. Wasn’t long before a solid eight foot tall cinderblock structure arose that could rival the great wall of China. The young couple weren’t exactly sure what to make of it and decided that being good neighbors meant deciding not to make anything of it at all.

But last Sunday Emit shook the young husband’s hand and said, "Boy, what a night, eh?"
"Uuuuh, last night?" said the young husband tentatively.
"Well, sure, all that noise from the fire trucks" Emit said, looking at them curiously. The young couple looked at each other for some clue as to what this man could possibly be talking about.
"You mean to tell me that you didn’t hear that commotion just after midnight?”

As it turned out, the night before one of the rental units just across the street from the young couple had caught fire when teenage daughters had left both curling irons and a set of hot rollers on in the bathroom when they all left for a movie. So the fire department had been called when smoke began pouring from the home and the fire trucks had arrived, lights going, sirens and all. The radio alone kept folks up for three blocks in each direction. Except all those within the melodious sound of the white noise machine.

At the conclusion of the conversation the young couple slipped into one of the back benches with rather pale expressions on their faces. After a minute to ponder all the possible dangers to her little family while sleeping through a fire directly across the street thanks to the white noise machine, the young mom glanced around meeting with some concern. Sister Fisher was sight impaired and lived right next door to the torched rental, in the basement of her mother's home, and the young mom was apprehensive about how those two lone women had fared through the night.

The young mom searched the congregation for Sister Fisher’s bright flowing mane of hair and was relieved to see that regardless of the eventful evening’s fire work’s, Sister Fisher was in attendance.

This meeting turned out to be one of those rare times when the young mom actually managed to be in her seat more than out in the foyer with a squirmer. She knew she was in for a treat as Sister Fisher made her way up to the stand to speak to the congrigation. Sister Fisher always had this pleasant, hopeful air about her in spite of the difficulties of her life.

"Brothers and sisters" she began, "I just have to get up and express my gratitude today. As some of you know I had the opportunity to undergo surgery on my eyes." Great, thought the young mom, I live across the street and I had no idea...again! What kind of white noise blocked that out?

Sister Fischer continued, “I wasn’t aware of much improvement at first, but before long I realized that I could make out whether or not I was walking on cement or blacktop. Now I am pleased to announce that I can tell which side of the Christmas wrapping paper is the right side or the wrong side and my presents will actually be wrapped correctly this year!"

Those concluding words of Sister Fisher’s echoed in the young mom’s ears as she laid her sleeping three year old into her crib and tucked the quilt around her daughter’s finally peaceful form. Sister Fisher had concluded with a sure, gentle testimony of the Savior, of the wonder of his birth and humble beginnings, of the reality of his life, atonement and resurrection, and of the huge sacrifice that the Savior had made for us.

The young mom stroked her daughter’s little cheek, and thought how much her own sweet child had sacrificed to come to serve their little family. This little one would not know what wrapping paper was, let alone whether there was a wrong or right side. Though she was three years old she would not know that there would be presents under the tree, nor understand the upcoming holiday festivities. In the dim glow of the night light the damp wisps of hair clung to her cheeks, evidence of a long evening as her imperfect body had struggled until exhaustion took over.

The young Mom wondered at that mother so long ago who swaddled her baby in a stable. Two centuries separated them in time, but a mother’s heart is timeless. Mary probably knew, as did the young mom, that the road ahead for the child they held would not be an easy one. There would be so much pain, so few who would understand, always the distant rumblings that these little ones, so loved, would be taken long before their mothers were ready to let them go.

So maybe getting around to a 6 story French Provincial gingerbread house wasn’t so important. Maybe impressing the crud out of the neighbors with intricately wrapped presents wasn’t exactly where the magic of Christmas lay. Maybe the magic of Christmas was a new and improved dedication to what mattered most. Maybe the magic was in just one more breath together.