Winter Wake

For Mark

Winter rouses aching memories.

A jeweled evergreen sprouting
in our living room.

Stars so brightly blinding
the earth becomes insensible.

Strangers to whom we once were,
our childhood emptied of every wonder
except One.

The redness of dying fingers,
fighting in the snow to stay alive.

I cannot sleep through this cold.

Michael James Fitzgerald

What My Mother-in-Law Taught Me about Love

Years ago, my mother-in-law asked me a question about love which I have never forgotten. She asked this:

If a man and woman were placed on a desert island, though they were different ages, looked different, came from different cultures, spoke different languages, and had different interests and personalities, what would eventually happen to them?

 After some thought I said, “They would find a way to fall in love.” Yes, that was her point.

What do you think?

I have thought about that question for many years, and I have come to the conclusion that love is possible in any situation where a couple offers respectful attention to each other.

Have you ever said to yourself, “Wow, how did those two get together?” Or, “What do those two see in each other?” I think it’s because the “desert island” principle can apply to any relationship.

To me, respect is the doorway to love, and respect opens the way to trust which is the foundation of love.

On a desert island, you would be forced to focus and give your attention to just that one person. (Well, you could choose to ignore that person, but you likely would not.) And as you gave attention, if you wanted a desirable response, you would have to offer your positive, respectful attention, and then the thousands of daily, even hourly negotiations you must make with another person in order for your relationship to work.

My point is—and I think my mother-in-law’s point was—in marriage, we are essentially on a desert island together, and if we choose to give this respectful attention to each other, the kind that builds trust, love will grow, no matter how different we are, no matter how different we see the world.

Some of you may feel shipwrecked, marooned on that desert island, and that there is no escape from your bad relationship. But I look at it differently, the result from what I have seen in hundreds of marriages over many years.

First, love is a choice, not an accident.

We talk of “falling of love” and I do believe in that magical part of love that we all experience and that comes from romance. But more than that, I believe that love is the result of how we choose to treat another person. If we treat them with kindness and true respect, if we serve them from our hearts, and give them our earnest attention, we will love them and that love will grow stronger and stronger and stronger.  Even if we are vastly different from that person. Even is we have in the past been disappointed by that person, or even heart broken by their choices, we can love them again.

Second, if love is a choice, we can choose to love the same person again and again.

Even if we have fallen into stinky little patterns of disrespect and distraction in our relationships, even if we have allowed our hearts to grow cold, we can choose again. And again and again. And if we choose to show respect and offer service, love will grow again.

I am not saying you can always trust again. There are some situations where trust is absolutely broken and is impossible to rebuild in this life. But I tend to be optimistic and to believe that trust can be rebuilt in most situations, even where transgression is involved. But again, that is a choice.

If your love has waxed cold, you can love your spouse again, if you choose to, even if that spouse has made mistakes, perhaps big ones. It is your choice, and no one else can choose for you. But I will say that, over the years, the couples I have seen who choose to hold things together, to work things out, to choose love again, tend to be much happier in later years.

There are some situations, I am sad to say, where one or both parties have gone so far off the deep end, that it is impossible to trust the other and to live with them.  As a friend and colleague recently taught me, “Divorce is never the right thing, but sometimes it is the best thing.”

No one can choose that for you. No one can be your conscience for you. Not your bishop or your priest or your minister. But I do know this. We must not judge. We must not burden others with our judgement, for God will render the same judgment on us that we render to others (see Matthew 7:1,2).

More often than not, I believe that love, and the relationships that nurture and protect love and the family, can be rebuilt if they rebuild on the foundation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

You might have to carve your way through a jungle on your desert island to “find” that person again, but I know this for sure, you can love them again, if you choose to.

What Is It that Counts Here?

Last Sunday, during his talk at the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, President Monson recounted several scenes from Henry Van Dyke’s The Mansion. He told of one John Weightman who, dreaming of his arrival in heaven, was shocked to discover that he would receive only a small hut in an open field for his earthly labors rather than a mansion as others.

He asked his guide, called the Keeper of the Gate, “What is it that counts here?” To this the guide answered:

“Only that which is truly given…Only that good which is done for the love of doing it. Only those plans in which the welfare of others is the master thought. Only those labors in which the sacrifice is greater than the reward. Only those gifts in which the giver forgets himself.”

For some weeks, a scripture has been coming to my mind, one that the Savior quoted several times (Matthew 9:13; 12:7). It is found in the book of the prophet Hosea:

For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6.)

When Jesus quoted that verse in Matthew 9:13, he also said “Go ye and learn what that meaneth.” I have pondered this verse for years. I do not know all that it means, but I feel I have gotten a few things out of it.

The crux of which is: Kindness and mercy, acceptance and forgiveness, love and patient understanding, are among the finest gifts we can give to one another. In other words, people, and the feelings they have, are infinitely more important than things.

Obedience to God’s laws is essential, but when we obey those laws in a proud or competitive way, a self-righteous way for others to see, we too often forget the “weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy and faith” (Matthew 23:23).

I remember President Monson once quoting this saying attributed to Barbara Johnson:

Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.

This Christmas season, we all have plenty of things to worry about and plenty to do, but none of those things are more important than the people around us. My prayer is that I will have the courage to take the time to be a true friend to others, starting with those nearest to me, my family and friends.

A true friend cares and listens, overlooks faults with patience, gives of self. A true friend is in a way a ministering angel. I can’t think of anything better to give this time of year to honor the Master, Jesus Christ.

This, I believe, is what really counts here.

A Christmas Tradition: Gifts to Jesus

Every year for many years, our family has had a Christmas tradition of giving gifts to Jesus. We each write our gifts on a 3 x 5 index card, wrap it in Christmas paper, and put the cards next to our Nativity set.

The gifts usually are some acts of service or faith. My wife introduced this to our family when the children were young to help them understand the meaning of the season. And I am so glad she did.

When we first started out, we would give our gifts to Jesus on Christmas Eve, and the gift was to be given over the coming year. Now we give our gift early in December, to be done over the month.

I am grateful that we have done this as a family now for over 20 years (probably). It helps me get focused on stepping outside of myself, a place I need to spend a lot more time.

This year I am giving five specific acts of service. I better stop writing so I can start on my first one!

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Cheescake

I’ve had this hankering for pumpkin cheesecake for several weeks. Finally, on Sunday, I made a simple recipe using ingredients that I can eat, such as non-dairy cream cheese made from soy and xylitol in place of sugar.

I preheated the oven to 375 degrees and after a few minutes I started to smell something funny, but I didn’t pay too much attention to it until my wife (I think) mentioned that she smelled something funny, too.

I finally opened the oven door and made an unpleasant discovery.

We got a new dishwasher last week, and before our landlord came over to install it, my wife had unloaded the dishwasher into the oven because the old one had to be removed. She told me she had done it, but I didn’t remember when I turned the oven on. We both just forgot about it.

There were great gobs of blue and red plastic at the bottom of the oven. And a caustic smell. We had to open the kitchen window for a while, even though it was pretty cold outside. I was pretty disappointed to discover this when I was about to pop two pies into the oven.

So what did I learn from the experience?

1. Look in the oven before preheating it. Even though you think the gun isn’t loaded, it is always best to assume it is. That applies to ovens too now.

2. It is great to have kind friends. I couldn’t cook the pies but some friends were perfectly happy to let me bake the pies in their oven. Phew. I was really looking forward to having that cheesecake. Which we did.

3. If you don’t give up, things always work out. Always. 

4. What looks like a tragedy one moment looks hilarious a few days (or even hours) later.

The moral of the story: Look before you bake.