Monday, August 13, 2007

Birthday Weekend

So it was my birthday yesterday. And the weekend has been a very good one. Let me run down some of the highlights.

Friday afternoon my daughter had her first soccer practice of the fall season. Being not-quite-six, the little girls all were pretty obedient to the coach (who is a friend of mine). It was really cute seeing them running across the field, clumped all together, attempting to "steal" the ball from the coach. She played soccer last spring, but it was more of a "practice and scrimmage" environment than a "practice and compete" environment. I'm looking forward to watching her this fall, as she does have a competitive streak that might serve her well. On the flip side, last spring she was also prone to lying flat on her back in the middle of the field, proclaiming she was too tired to go on while everybody else played around her. It should be interesting.

Friday night my wife and I went out on a date to a local theater. There we were able to watch a night of "improv" -- improvisational comedy -- performed by a few members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS). There were four actors, three of whom I've seen in LDS movies before: Kirby Heyborne ("The RM", "The Singles Ward"), Lincoln Hoppe (ditto), Corbin Allred ("Saints and Soldiers"), and Kelly Lohman (um ...). It was actually quite funny, and since they are members of the church, they guaranteed that it would be clean and family friendly. Of the four, I think Corbin Allred was the best actor of the bunch, but all of them were quite funny and quick-witted.

In hindsight, we probably could've taken our two oldest children, but that would defeat the purpose of date night. We've never been to "the improv" before, though we had previously been fans of the television show "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" (but we were often annoyed by the sexual tone that the show would often take for a cheap laugh). We did have a wonderful time, and look forward to going again sometime soon.

Saturday morning was one of hard labor. I woke up early and soon got started in the yard. I mowed, weeded, spread bark on our front hill (in a few places that were unfinished), thinned the garden, sprayed for weeds, and generally did a marathon gardening session. It was a good morning.

That afternoon, my wife took my daughter out to see "Beauty and the Beast" at the local community college. By all reports, they had a wonderful time, with the following two exceptions: 1) my wife had to constantly remind herself that it wasn't a Broadway production - and it showed, and 2) they advertised the sale of cheaply-made, expensive, glowing roses (to go along with the play) that would be on sale in the lobby during the intermission. My daughter immediately went into "gotta-have-it" mode, and spent the latter half of the play driving my wife crazy asking for one. On the way home, she was still begging and pleading, and pushed my wife to the edge, who wouldn't tolerate that, especially since they had left the play, and couldn't buy one anymore. We do our best not to spoil our children by not giving them everything they want, but sometimes that doesn't show.

Saturday evening, my wife and I again got the babysitter and went out to the adult session of our local "stake" conference. In our church, local congregations are called "wards", while small groups of wards are called "stakes". Every six months, we have a conference with all the wards in the stake gathered together -- it's basically a long, two-hour service filled with various speakers providing five to twenty minute sermons intermixed with singing performed variably by a choir and/or the congregation. On the night before there is always a session intended for the adults. The big topic was about preparing ourselves for the coming of Jesus Christ by performing service, keeping the commandments, and teaching our children properly. It was a very nice experience, and we enjoyed the quiet time without the children.

Sunday morning I woke up early to go to a "priesthood leadership" meeting, also part of stake conference. This meeting is intended for those who hold leadership positions in the church. Since there is no paid ministry, everybody tends to be asked to do something to help make things go smoothly -- teach classes, direct choirs, staff the library, deal with the finances, or manage the various youth organizations in the church, for example. For me, I'm the executive secretary to the bishop of the ward, who is the leader of our local congregation -- I basically set up interviews and manage meeting agendas.

During the meeting there were four speakers who spoke about the following topics:

-- Family Home Evening (FHE) is not Family Home Hour. In the church it is strongly encouraged that families take Monday nights as family night, and make it a priority to be together, discuss the gospel, and have a little fun. The intent is to strengthen families, and sometimes it's easy to find other things that distract us from holding a meaningful FHE.
-- Service in the temple brings blessings to the lives of those who attend. There was one very old man who joined the church at 82, and at 90 years old said something like, "The temple has added years to my life, and life to those years."
-- "Do you know a young man who needs help?" was the topic of the third speaker, who was a very moving speaker. As it happens, he was a young man who came from a broken home and could have easily been "lost" to religion were it not for the attention of conscientious church leaders, young men leaders, scout leaders, seminary teachers, and other adults in his life who helped him through the really tough times.
-- "Focus on Five" was a message from the president of the stake. One of the greatest things about the church is that we take care of our own, even if our own don't really want to be cared for. We do our best to extend welcoming hands to encourage people who have "fallen away" from the church to return and be a part of it. In this task, the stake president encouraged each of the wards to focus on five families at a time -- rather than getting overwhelmed by the dozens or hundreds of people who have "wandered away" -- and to actively try to find ways to bring them back into the church. It was a very good meeting.

Afterwards, we attended the regular session of stake conference. It was a two-hour meeting with everybody packed in together. My wife directs the stake choir, so she was up on the stand the entire time, which left me to wrestle with our three children. In an effort to help them behave themselves, we brought some "Color Wonder" books for them to color in. During normal church services, where the main meeting only goes about an hour, we don't provide anything for the children to do because we've found that they have a hard time being reverent. They need to eventually learn to be reverent and to listen to the speakers.

During stake conference, since it's a two-hour meeting, we usually do bring something for them to do, and I broke it out when the first speaker started talking. However, things went badly from the very first minute. It seems that while they are focused on coloring in the books, they forget where they are and are incapable of whispering to communicate. Not only that, but they fight over who gets what color and which book and where to sit and how to lean and, incidentally, our youngest wants all the pencils, crayons, and markers. Then my daughter announced she had to go to the bathroom, and I didn't want to march all three of my children out, so I sent my oldest to shepherd her -- they did wonderfully and came back in a timely fashion. Then my youngest starting throwing a tantrum because the older kids wouldn't let him have all the crayons. I ended up leaving the older kids on the bench and taking him out to the foyer to have a little time-out. After I returned my daughter started complaining that her chest hurt -- with no explanation -- so started crying and whimpering. All the while I'm trying to keep them all happy and quiet and keep things from being thrown around.

About an hour in, I'd had enough and I took it all away. Interestingly enough, they were suddenly quiet, and they didn't complain. I think they recognized how they were misbehaving. I gave my youngest a few cars, and the older kids sat there bored out of their minds. But at least they were quiet. While my wife sat up on the stage and had a wonderful time hearing the messages as delivered by the speakers, all I could think about was the scripture from Genesis 2:18: "It is not good that the man should be alone ..." Really. I was glad when the meeting was over.

So then we went home, had lunch, and opened my birthday presents. Since we had just bought a new computer, there were only a few things for me, but that's plenty fine by me. My in-laws gave me a movie called "Work and the Glory III" (one I've been wanting for a while), and my wife and kids gave me a computer game called "Star Wars: Empire at war". Since I love strategy games, I'm looking forward to spending some time with it. We also spent an hour napping (cut short by my impatient oldest son), had a wonderful dinner with the kids, and played a little bit on my new computer game. My wife made a very nice cake for me -- three layers of it! It was my favorite kind: chocolate cake, with chocolate frosting, with chocolate ice cream on the side. She dazzled it up a bit with some fillings, and put it atop a silly stand that has purple feet below it. Since she professionally makes cakes, it wasn't much to look at, but I had previously told her that I would sacrifice a fancy and decadent cake if she would just make me one that I could have a lot of. You seen, when it comes to my birthday, I like to eat chocolate cake with ice cream, and a lot of it! She was dismayed, but satisfied me! Yes, indeed, she does love me.

Later that night, I called my parents to visit with them a little. My birthday snuck up on them so apparently there's a card on the way. My mother said that my birthday was the only good thing to happen to her family in August. I'm not quite sure what she meant by that, but then we started tabulating all the birthdays therein, and she was surprised a bit by the results.

Anyway, after the kids were down for the night, two of my siblings called me. One thing to understand about me and my siblings is that each of the seven of us are very, very different people. To that end, we don't get together as much as I'd like, and since I live a few states away from the rest of them, it's even rarer that I get the chance to see or talk with them. So, I was genuinely touched when two of my siblings called me to wish me a happy birthday. In my entire life, that was the first time that has happened. I've had years where one of them will call, usually not the same one, but this year I had two! Figuratively speaking, that was the icing on the cake.

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P.S. -- My parents did send a check to me for my birthday. It was worth far more than they should have spent, and I chastised them for that in the same moment I expressed my gratitude. Funny how we are sometimes. In any case, I used the money to buy a bicycle rack so that we can more easily take our bicycles with us when we go camping or to the park. It's something we've wanted for a long time. Thanks Mom and Dad!

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