Just the Right Amount of Snow

Dear Will:

Last month I took my family up to the mountains of Wyoming for a family reunion. It promised to be a fun-filled week in the middle of paradise: a cabin on a private lake filled with good food and the people I love most.

Then it started to snow.

That’s right. Apparently Wyoming missed the meeting about summer beginning June 21, because snow started falling on June 22. My kids—born and raised in sunny California with almost no firsthand experience with snow—were thrilled to see those first few flakes. We told them not to get their hopes up, explaining that the little flurry they were seeing would do little else than wet their noses when they got out of the car. . . . Three days later, it was still snowing.

Needless to say, my family was not prepared to be snowed in. Fortunately we had brought warm jackets (we were at 9000 feet, after all), but nothing in the way of gloves or boots for the kids. Rather than fishing and hiking for a week, we spent a lot of time indoors playing dominoes and reading. It was forced togetherness for a group that had certainly intended to be together—just not that close together for so long.

I suppose I should mention that I have six siblings, all but one of whom were there with spouses and children. We are a close-knit family, I suppose, but we do not live near each other. As a result, we are almost never all together at the same time. This reunion was a rare event indeed (held to commemorate my parents 50th wedding anniversary). So to put the 40 of us together in three large cabins, with nothing much to do but wait for the weather to clear, promised to be an interesting test to say the least. I watched with curiosity to see how we would interact: how the cousins would get along, how the various in-laws would blend together—better yet, how my siblings and I would do, living together as a family for the first time in many, many years.

I won’t kid you; there were a few situations in which we got a little testy for one reason or another. But for the most part, the cabins were filled with laughter and geniality, with moments of tender and sometimes hilarious reminiscence mixed in with quiet expressions of admiration and love. It was, in spite of the snow—or perhaps because of it—what you would hope for from a week together, especially knowing that, with my parents growing older and our various families growing larger and more dispersed, it may be the last time we are all together in that fashion.

I suppose I could throw in a pithy comment or two here about the importance of families and eternity, but you already know all that, so let me just wish you the best of summers, with just the right amount of snow to keep you near the ones you love.


A Lesson for Dad

Dear Will:

Father’s Day provides me a great excuse to tell you why I love being a dad. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but at the same time the rewards are immeasurable. Allow me to illustrate:

The other day my four-year-old Seth informed me that he had planned a “lesson” for me. He said that as soon as I was done with what I was working on I should come upstairs and look for the pachycephalosaurus, a small plastic dinosaur which would indicate where I was to sit. It’s hard to say no to an offer like that, isn’t it?

Of course, I finished as quickly as I could and headed to the “classroom.” As it turned out, the “lesson” was broken up into two parts, starting with a play in which I was to take the role of a pachycephalosaurus while Seth played the part of the triceratops. (Some advice: Should you ever have to play that pachycephalosaurus role, you’ll avoid the wrath of the director if you keep in mind that the pachycephalosaurus walked on two legs, not four. Who knew?) The play was followed by a rousing game of Go Fish, which I lost as usual.

The whole sequence of events was a marvelous pay-off for a dad. When Seth informed me that he had prepared a lesson for me, he was saying, in essence, that he wanted some time with me. What a flattering, wonderful thing. He has other ways of communicating that to me as well. On Monday, for example, I stayed home to work from my study rather than go into the office. Every half hour or so, Seth would get bored with what he was doing and, without saying a word, he would slip into the office and snuggle up in my lap. It made it hard to go through my email, for more reasons than one.

The day will come, I’m sure, when my little buddy tires of me and would rather hang out with friends or (gulp) a girl. But for now, I’m still his best pal, a title I bear with great pride. I will do whatever I can to hold onto that position in hopes that we remain pals throughout his life, even when friends and other interests begin to occupy his thoughts and time.

Of course, even as I write this, Seth is trying to figure out how to climb up into my lap. And so I must set down the laptop to attend to more important matters. I hope you understand.


A Prayer of the Heart

Dear Will:

Recently you may have heard news reports concerning an emergency angioplasty performed on Phil Jackson, coach of the Los Angeles Lakers. One of the main arteries leading into his heart was apparently 90% blocked. The procedure opened up the artery and Phil was back at work within a few days. Amazing.

About this same time, I was also hearing of several friends who found themselves with serious, life-threatening maladies, including one who had had (you guessed it) a heart attack.

With these events swirling in my mind, I found myself one morning reading a discourse given by Elder Russell M. Nelson, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve who, prior to his call into full-time church service, made his living as a heart surgeon. Apparently (as you shall see) he was a surgeon of some renown.

I share with you a story he related concerning the power of prayer. I hope you find it inspiring, as I did:

Many of us have had experiences with the sweet power of prayer. One of mine was shared with a stake patriarch from southern Utah. I first met him in my medical office more than 40 years ago, during the early pioneering days of surgery of the heart. This saintly soul suffered much because of a failing heart. He pleaded for help, thinking that his condition resulted from a damaged but repairable valve in his heart.

Extensive evaluation revealed that he had two faulty valves. While one could be helped surgically, the other could not. Thus, an operation was not advised. He received this news with deep disappointment.

Subsequent visits ended with the same advice. Finally, in desperation, he spoke to me with considerable emotion: “Dr. Nelson, I have prayed for help and have been directed to you. The Lord will not reveal to me how to repair that second valve, but He can reveal it to you. Your mind is so prepared. If you will operate upon me, the Lord will make it known to you what to do. Please perform the operation that I need, and pray for the help that you need.”

His great faith had a profound effect upon me. How could I turn him away again? Following a fervent prayer together, I agreed to try. In preparing for that fateful day, I prayed over and over again, but still did not know what to do for his leaking tricuspid valve. Even as the operation commenced, my assistant asked, “What are you going to do for that?”

I said, “I do not know.”

We began the operation. After relieving the obstruction of the first valve, we exposed the second valve. We found it to be intact but so badly dilated that it could no longer function as it should. While examining this valve, a message was distinctly impressed upon my mind: Reduce the circumference of the ring. I announced that message to my assistant. “The valve tissue will be sufficient if we can effectively reduce the ring toward its normal size.”

But how? We could not apply a belt as one would use to tighten the waist of oversized trousers. We could not squeeze with a strap as one would cinch a saddle on a horse. Then a picture came vividly to my mind, showing how stitches could be placed—to make a pleat here and a tuck there—to accomplish the desired objective. I still remember that mental image—complete with dotted lines where sutures should be placed. The repair was completed as diagrammed in my mind. We tested the valve and found the leak to be reduced remarkably. My assistant said, “It’s a miracle.”

I responded, “It’s an answer to prayer.”