How to Fill Your Home with the Holiday Spirit

Dear Will:

Since I have a model family, I feel it my obligation to share with you some straightforward advice on how best to fill your home with the holiday spirit. I suggest you start with the decorations. . . .

A.  Put Up the Lights

You might think that it is still the Thanksgiving weekend—a time set aside for gluttony and football—when you discover, much to your delight, that the otherwise terrific guy next door has already festooned his abode with bright and cheerful electric doodads. “When are you going to put up our lights, Beloved?” your eternal companion might sing, filling your heart immediately with Christmas cheer. “Oh, I don’t know, Pumpkin,” you’ll say, “I was hoping perhaps to do it tomorrow during the UCLA-Oregon game.” Overjoyed that you have already embraced her vision, she’ll skip into the house with a fa la la la la.

You’ll start with great brio the next day because putting up the lights is always a highlight of the year for you—especially when there’s a big game on. We suggest the following essential steps:

  1. Untangle the lights. Or not. Throw away the ones that inexplicably become more tangled as you untangle them. Hum happily to yourself.
  2. Put up the first strand with brisk efficiency. After you discover that you have wrong end toward the outlet, take it down and redo it. Give the guy next door a friendly, high-spirited wave.
  3. Bang your head on the roof overhang, opening a gash which casts a Christmassy red across your pale, bald head. Chuckle to yourself as you ponder your amusing misfortune.
  4. Put up the second strand of lights. Replace the bulbs you break when you step on them. Then when it becomes clear that the plug cannot reach the socket, take it down and redo it. Whistle with contentment.
  5. Bang your head on the roof again. Just for the fun of it.
  6. Plug in the lights to check your progress. When half of the lights in one strand won’t come on, spend an hour or so trying to figure out which bulb is responsible for the broken circuit. Give up and rip the entire strand from the eaves with a merry “Ho Ho Ho.”
  7. Continue hanging and rehanging lights until dusk. Fall off of the ladder only as frequently as necessary. Pretend that you really didn’t care about the football game anyway. Think lovingly about your children who sit inside playing video games and texting their friends.
  8. Invite your sweetheart outside to admire the finished product. Give her a warm, affectionate squeeze when she says, “Tomorrow we start on the inside of the house.”

B.  Decorate the Tree

Much to the consternation of your eldest children, the tree comes in a box. Since it consists of three distinct parts, erecting the tree is a lot easier than, say, putting up the lights—which, we realize, does not explain the split lip and the chipped tooth. Be that as it may, the tree goes up in a relative jiffy.

Now comes the fun part: As the ornaments come out of the box, the time has arrived for the traditional, festive colloquy between the strident eldest children, who miss the days of yore “when we shopped for a real tree” each December, and the mom, who reminds them each year that, since we live in California, the trees that are trucked here from Oregon have been dead since Labor Day.  The substance of the discussion might go something like this:  Kids: “Tradition!” Mom: “Fire!” And so on. Until Valentine’s Day.

C.  Deck the Halls

You may not have boughs of holly, but you should have an array of baubles and oddments with which to make the season bright. As you distribute them where once you could find the remote control, observe in particular the stupefying array of snowmen which quickly establish a beachhead in your family room. (Should time allow, you may also wish to ponder the prominence of frosty décor in a place which hasn’t seen snow since there were wooly mammoths hot-tubbing in the La Brea Tar Pits.) As the kids scurry about with their favorite bits of bric-a-brac, notice how the mood has somehow shifted.

When each piece is in its place and the ancillary detritus has been stowed, ditch the yeti and go around the corner to the living room, where instead of elves and reindeer you’ll find shepherds and sheep of various varieties. Take a seat, and perhaps you’ll notice for the first time the holiday music that now fills your home, or the laughter (can it be?) emanating from all three children simultaneously. Cast your eyes about at the scene: On the wall hangs a picture of the Jesus, beside it a favorite print of timid shepherds stealing a glimpse of Mary and Joseph’s newborn son. There might be a wonderful paper crèche from Mexico City or one your son made many years ago out of aluminum foil. And if you’re lucky, you’ll spy a simple display made of olivewood which gets an honored spot on the table in the middle of the room. Notice also that in each crèche all eyes are on the baby. And who knows? You may find that yours are on the baby as well.

And so they should be at this time of year, tangled lights and plastic trees notwithstanding. It is, after all, the time of “peace on earth, good will to men”—provided, that is, that you don’t ask about the split lip.

PW

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Trusting in the Covert of His Wings

Dear Will:

Perhaps you saw this photo recently in the LA Times.

Karen Tapia-Andersen / Los Angeles Times

It’s the sort of photo you’re bound to notice. You can’t help but notice it. Brian Williams did. Or at least someone on his staff at NBC Nightly News did. In any case they did a three-minute segment on these firefighters.

Here’s the background: Twelve firefighters were on a hillside trying to keep the Santiago fire from jumping the road and destroying some homes. Without warning, the winds shifted and sent the flames their way. Seeing that they had no escape route available, they removed their “shelters” from their packs and curled up underneath them—cocoon style—while they waited for help. And waited. With no help coming, they huddled together under those shelters, taking short breaths and enduring untold heat in a quest to survive. Finally, after 15 interminable minutes, aircraft arrived, dumped water on the flames, and freed the men. Not one was injured.

It’s a frightening tale made more frightening when you learn that one of those twelve is your friend. Brett Cowdell was among those on the hillside that day. Brett used to be my eldest son’s scoutmaster. Our youngest sons were born within a couple of weeks of each other. He and I were even co-workers before he entered the fire academy. When I saw his wife yesterday, I felt a surge of emotion, so grateful was I that he had been protected when the fires raged his way.

That image—of a good friend, nearly helpless in the face of mounting peril—brought to mind the promise contained within one of Jesus’s saddest laments: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, . . . how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matthew 23:37). The Lord’s message to all of us is that He offers shelter from the trials which so often rage against us, provided only that we come unto Him. He doesn’t promise to take away adversity, of course; rather he offers to gather and shield us so that we can come through difficulty relatively unscathed. Having personally felt the protection of such shelter, the Psalmist wrote:

Hear my cry, O God; attend unto my prayer.
From the end of the earth will I cry unto thee, when my heart is overwhelmed: lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
For thou hast been a shelter for me, and a strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in thy tabernacle for ever: I will trust in the covert of thy wings. (Psalms 61:1-4)

I hope that you and your loved ones are all OK in spite of the danger which surrounds us. And I remind you that help is always near at hand.

PW

A Little Dazed–Maybe Even Catatonic

Dear Will:

I don’t quite believe what I have gotten myself into.

Several months ago the local church leaders approached me to see what I would think about an idea they had. To be specific, they wondered if I might be willing to teach early morning Seminary. Now in case you don’t know—or you maybe purged it from your personal memory—early morning Seminary is sort of like Bible Study for Mormons. The catch: It’s held at 6 a.m. . . . for high schoolers—by any measure the humans least likely to be alert at six in the morning.

For some reason I said yes. Not that I really know that much about the Old Testament, you understand. But I felt pretty strongly that it was something that God wanted me to do—so I agreed without really knowing how in the world I would pull it off.

The early morning part is no big deal for me. What is proving much harder, however, is finding time to prepare for 6 a.m. without staying up past midnight to get it done. As one who has grown accustomed in recent years to using the hours after the kids and Dana have gone to bed to try to get a little work done, I’ve had a hard time adjusting to the reallocation of my evening hours. Now I have to find an hour or so to prepare a lesson and I need to get to bed by around 10:30 p.m. if I want to avoid passing out on my way to work. And it ain’t easy.

Case in point: Although I am adjusting, the other day I was having such a hard time staying awake on the drive to work that I finally pulled into a McDonald’s parking lot, tilted back the seat, and took a little nap—at 8:20 a.m. Not good. Fortunately, now that I’m about three weeks in to this new assignment, I’m doing much better.

Here’s what’s cool about this job. First off, the kids are terrific. I’m teaching a bunch of seniors who are a total delight, reasonably enthusiastic and for the most part willing to participate. (Still, 6 a.m. is early, so there’s only so much energy and enthusiasm that they can reasonably summon. There are always a handful who looked a little dazed—maybe even catatonic. I probably look the same to them.) I’m also enjoying the necessity of reading and studying the scriptures each day. Not that I haven’t done that to some degree or the other for some time—but when you have to teach what you’re reading to someone else, it adds both focus and intensity to your exploration.

The biggest pay-off of all is that teaching Seminary is filling my mind with the word of God, which is (I hope) making me a better person. Since I have to ponder and teach eternal truths each day, I also feel compelled to try harder to apply those truths. Although I still holler at my kids too much and get grumpy and commit any number of other daily transgressions, I can already feel the difference it is making to be preoccupied with the Gospel. There are certainly worse things to fill your mind with, wouldn’t you say?

So if, in the months ahead, I start to write you a letter and nod off part way through, I hope you’ll understand and jfiosdklkjfk jkdkjkjj zzzzzjjjjjjjjjjjjzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. . . . . . . . .

PW