Ahem. A Note and a Letter

the new Jackson County temple, in an early 2011 gloaming 

So I'm sitting here eating my three-minute-egg, that techinically went closer to four minutes this morning.


But that was because I got distracted reading all your kind comments from yesterday (or the day before...I've lost track now) and it made me a little wistful (gosh I love that word) and the tiniest bit weepy from all the good wishes.

But I also realized I owe you a note of explanation.

David did get a job offer in Missouri (or Misery as Olivia has renamed it).  This was a "get the wife's approval" trip to see the town, look at the schools and the neighborhoods, wander around and see if I could picture us in the library or on the baseball diamond or sitting on a blanket next to the river.  And also, to hopefully get some answers from heaven.  Nothing has been finalized.  We haven't accepted or turned down.  We are thinking and praying and vexing and venting and making "decision matrixes."  (I am so not kidding on that last one.  Heaven help us.)

So.  Mostly I've been wishing that I was either Brigham or Julie Brilliant Beck.  I could use a vision about "the right place" or the enviable skill-set of being able to receive revelation.

But yesterday on our way out of town, David and I stopped at the Liberty Jail.  There is maybe no place in the world better to go when you think you've got it hard.  It puts everything in perspective pretty quickly.  Talk about trodding gladly into the night.  We sat in the semi-darkness listening to the accounts of the saints leaving their prophet in the worst of conditions while they trekked through the dead of winter with their little children, and wept.  For their faith.  For their sacrifice.  For their example.

And now for the letter.  (Those of you who already received our Christmas letter this year can stop right here and go do your grocery shopping.  Could you do mine too while you're at it?  Shopping (of any kind) is always my Waterloo.)  For those of you who are not on my mailing list, I am posting this Christmas letter here for you and also (mostly) for my record.  I know it's late.  I know we are past tidings of great joy and on to resolutions and new beginnings, but I'm posting it anyway.  The picture I am posting with it did not go out on our Christmas card, but it is a picture from a story I tell in the letter.  And I'm including it, again, for the record. 

Dear Loved Ones,

Sometimes on date night, David and I wander through the bookstore.  (There is no better date, by the way.)  I start stacking books into my arms and breathing heavily, from all the lust and the effort, while David works his way over to the section where they keep the maps, and the travel guides, and the books with pictures of the hundred places you must visit in your lifetime.  I find him later with his best friends by his side--Frommer, Fodor, and Rand McNally.  By then we’re both aroused.

Over the years, David and his travel guides have led us around the entire continent.  This summer we made our way to Banff, and Michigan, and Florida, and California, and back again.  David had spent months planning and reading and mapping and dreaming.  He knew where to eat, where to sleep, where to lie all day and watch the sun turn our children into golden-brown donuts sprinkled with white-sugar sand. 

Then in September, David’s position at the hospital was eliminated.  We found ourselves in an unknown land without travel guides or map.  Where is Frommer when you need him?  When David walked in the door, his face white and grief-stricken, I knew what had happened.  There we were, without a light, without a map, without a sure destination.

We told the children the next day.  They all wept at seeing David’s broken heart.  In the weeks and months that followed they have cried for themselves as well.  For the first month or so, we sat around the dinner table and after we had supped, we would talk and cry, and eventually most of the kids would end up in my lap, sobbing their sorrows into my neck while the food dried on the plates.  Because in their heart of hearts, they knew what this meant…a journey into the unknown.

For years, they have climbed into the backseat of the car, trusting that David knows the way, trusting that he will get them where they need to be.  As for me, I sit in the seat next to David and watch his handsome face as we pass the high deserts, the low mellow plains, the lush green farms and wide barns along the way.  No need to watch the road.  David is doing that.  I sleep, I read, I talk, and he drives.  He knows the way.  In all the years of our roadtripping, I only remember once when he made a wrong turn.

We made him an office at home.  He started interviewing.  Now I pack his bags and he boards airplanes and together we pray.  For light.  For maps.  For a way in the darkness.

A couple of weeks ago Caleb needed a specific little snail for his science project, a snail that is found in the Colorado River somewhere south of the dam.  To ensure that collecting conditions were just right, we had to travel in the dark of night, a nine-hour roundtrip. Early one morning, while David packed the lunches and consulted on the morning hairdo’s and made sure Olivia didn’t wear too much eye shadow to school, Caleb and I left Flagstaff and headed out into the dark desert.  We didn’t know exactly where to look, we didn’t know what we’d find when we got there, and we didn’t know how we would manage to collect the snails if we found them.  As I drove along the dark highway, I prayed.  Help us.  Help us.  Help us find the way.  It felt impossible.  But, in the early morning light, we waded into the cold Colorado, the water swirling around our knees, and turned over rocks to find exactly what we needed.  As I stood in that river with my son, holding the heavy, wet stones in my hand, watching the sun rise over the vermillion cliffs and light Caleb’s head like a halo, I remembered Joshua’s stones:

That this may be a sign among you, that when your children ask their fathers in time to come, saying, What mean ye by these stones?

Then ye shall answer them, That the waters of Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord; when it passed over Jordan, the waters of Jordan were cut off: and these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.

And I started to cry.  Because He knows the way.  He has led us before.  He leads us now.  He will lead us always.  He knows how to pass over deep water.  His hand is better than a known way.  How many times have we been in the darkness, without a light, without a map, lost and admittedly afraid?  And he has brought us through every time.  He is the Repairer of the Breach.

There are days when the way forward seems impassable, as impassable as the Jordan River and the Red Sea and the whole Pacific Ocean.  There are days when the wilderness seems broader and wilder than ever before, when the darkness never looked so dark.  But even now, especially now, we recognize His tender mercies.  We are witnesses of His love.  He always makes a way for us cross on dry ground.  Whether we need snails or a job or redemption—from small to staggering, He provides every good gift. 

As I watch David stand on the bank of this new Jordan, the rest of us trustingly and expectantly looking up at him, I am reminded that at the time of Christ’s birth, probably nothing went according to Joseph’s plan.  From the miraculous conception, to the difficult journey, to the filthy stable, to the flight into Egypt, the ragged, dog-eared Fodor’s in his bag would have been useless.  And yet, God provided.  He knew more.  He had prepared a way.  The perfect way.  It is the same for us.  And when our children ask their fathers, What meaneth these stones?, we will tell them of the path he made just for us.  This season and always, we rejoice with the angels and cry out with the stones, that He is, indeed, “the King that cometh in the name of the Lord,” and the God of Israel and the whole earth.  He is our Rock, our Foundation, our Stone of Help.  Here we raise our Ebenezer, here by His great help we’ve come. 

With Love and Faith,

David, April, Caleb, Olivia, Savannah and Ethan

At the Gate of the Year

The Kansas City airport, early 2011

I am writing from the middle of the country.

It is charming out here, even in the dead of winter.  Nearly everyone you meet wishes you a "blessed day" and there are cows and rolled hay bales on the hills behind our hotel.

I am here looking for places to fry up the bacon, as it were.

And I'm sorry to admit, it's a little bit scary to imagine cooking bacon anywhere other than where you've done it for the last ten years.  I am not quite as brave as I had imagined.  (That is the trouble with an active imagination...you can even deceive yourself.  Woe is me.)

When we arrived in Kansas City, we had to rent a car and drive out from the city for a while.  The lady at the rental car agency gave us a blue Toyota Corolla, the very kind of car we owned when we were first married and just starting our adventure together.  Back when nothing seemed scary except being apart.  Remember that?  When we got in the car we grinned at each other.  David said it was like starting all over again.  Trouble is, it's not just us any more.  There are four other people in the equation now.  Four people with hopes and dreams and futures of their own to worry about.

It can be overwhelming.

Last night I couldn't sleep for all the fear and worry.  David and I stayed up late.  Happily, this morning, everything looked a little more cheerful by the light of day.  I told David we can't have any more discussions late at night.  He just looked at me.  Because our late night discussions are never his idea of course.

All morning, as I passed the cows on the hills, and the bare oaks and maples, and frozen ponds in this little midwest town, Minnie Louise Harkins' poem was running, running, running through my mind. 

And it was some comfort to my terrorized heart.  Bless you, Minnie Louise.  It gave me back a bit of the courage that has ruthlessly abandoned me, and tenderly prodded me to do my best "to trod gladly into the night."  That's right, not just trod, but trod gladly.

How'm I doing?

I haven't cried once all day.  

I told you I was a wonder.

At the Gate of the Year

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'

And he replied,
'Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!'

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night
He led me towards the hills
And the breaking of day in the lone east.

So heart be still!
What need our human life to know
If God hath comprehension?

In all the dizzy strife of things
Both high and low,
God hideth his intention.