As If We Could See Forever

New Mexico Clouds

Dear Will:

Earlier this month, my family and I drove to Taos, New Mexico for a little vacation. Although we had read that Taos is a beautiful and interesting place, we weren’t really sure what to expect.

In a word: it was “awesome.” I mean that not in the overused, 21st century version of the word, but in its literal sense—“awesome” as in, “inspiring awe.” I had sort of imagined New Mexico to simply be an extension of Arizona—something like the stretch from Barstow to Vegas. Yuck. And some of it was, to be honest. But as we made the gradual climb to Taos (which sits around 7,000 feet above sea level) we discovered something else altogether.

We went river rafting. We wandered art galleries. We rode horses above 12,000 feet. We hiked down to where the Red River and Rio Grande gorges converge. And we ate a bunch of bizarre and interesting food (for dessert: avocado pie), including the best hamburger I have eaten in my life—bar none. All of which we loved.

But what really took my breath away was the clouds: big, billowy, painted-on-canvas beauties like I had never seen before. Set against a deep blue sky, they seemed to go on forever. We must have taken 100 pictures of them, including at least once when we simply had to stop the car to gawk. The photo above is just one of those shots that doesn’t begin to capture the grandeur we beheld.

I’ve thought about it since and I’ve come up with this theory for why the sky seemed so much bigger in New Mexico than it does here. And I think more than anything it has to do with perspective. As this picture aptly portrays, the elevation of Taos, and the flat, barren landscape to the southwest, provide an unobstructed view of the distant horizon. Add to that clear, unpolluted skies and voilà! you have a scene like the one here.

I suppose that is what God has in mind when He challenges us to rise up from our current circumstances and seek higher ground. And how do we do seek higher ground? We do it by elevating our thoughts, raising our standards, choosing to be with those who make us better and to do those things that bring us closer to God. It seems too obvious to say it, but I must: When we elevate ourselves in that fashion, we begin to appreciate the grandeur of eternity and see things as they really are—and we begin to glimpse our own divine potential.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). True enough, but when we start to emulate Him, in even the smallest degree, it’s as if we could see forever.


This Is Why We’re Here

Dear Will:

Last week we returned from one of the greatest family adventures ever. Among the greatest for us, anyway. Along with another family of friends, we took our two youngest for a backpacking trip in Zion National Park. Specifically, we hiked from one end of the Narrows to the other.

If you have never visited the Narrows, here’s a snapshot which, even in its beauty, doesn’t begin to capture the spectacular scenery.

Now if I tell you that it took us two days to complete the 16-mile hike, you’ll probably think, “No big deal.” That’s sort of what we thought as well. But it turned out to be much more difficult than we would have guessed. For starters, the hike is 16 miles long if you walk it in a straight line—which you can’t. To hike the Narrows, you must crisscross the Virgin River repeatedly throughout the hike, which turns the 16 miles into 25 or 30 instead. Further adding to the challenge, as you proceed downstream, springs and streams continuously add volume to the river, so it gets deeper and swifter the farther along you go. Consequently, as you grow more tired, the invisible terrain on the riverbed becomes more treacherous: the boulders are larger, slicker, and more irregular, the currents stronger, the rapids more frequent. What’s more, as this picture suggests, there are long stretches in which there is no riverbank whatsoever, meaning that you have no choice but to hike in the river itself.

That’s not that bad if you are carrying little more than a water-bottle and some trail mix. But since we spent the night at the river’s edge, we were all wearing backpacks, some of us laden with 30 pounds or more of gear and food. That’s not the sort of load that makes it easy to stay balanced while maneuvering over algae-covered rocks in a swiftly-moving, muddy river. In fact, there were many stretches in which we had to cross the river in pairs to keep one another from being swept downstream. There were many areas in which the water was too deep for Seth, my 10-year-old, one area in which all 11 of us were required to swim with our packs strapped to our backs.

It was hard—so hard that we often fell into the trap of focusing strictly on our footing. Periodically, someone in the party would admonish us all to stop and look up—to take in the amazing beauty that can only be seen if you go there on foot. “This is why we’re here,” we would remind ourselves. “This is the point of our ordeal.”

Toward the end, Seth (wise beyond his years) speculated that this would turn out to be the sort of experience that we would look back on with joy, relishing both the difficulty and the magnificence of the experience. But, he added, “right now I’m not enjoying it much at all.”

Ah, life. Strewn with boulders, fraught with peril, harder than we would wish and often not much fun. All the more reason that periodically we should stop and look around, marveling at the miracles around us and relishing the privilege of being here, now, wherever and whenever that might be. In many ways, the ordeal is the point, a challenge for which we should all be grateful.

God has said: “Peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment; and then, if thou endure it well, God shall exalt thee on high” (D&C 121:7-8). May it be so.


Let’s Start with the Obvious

Dear Will:

So the ol’ 401(k) statement arrives in the mail and I think to myself: “Don’t do it.” I hold it there, knowing that what lies within is the grimmest of grim news, a financial plunge of historic proportions in what has generously been called our “portfolio.”

Knowing better,  I open it anyway . . . and it’s horrifying. Stupefyingly so. But as is so often the case, stupefaction leads to a moment of clarity and self-awareness not seen since I acknowledged in the 10th grade that I would always be a lousy golfer. In this golden moment, it occurs to me that I never  had enough in the 401(k) plan to retire anyway. Not even close. Wouldn’t have survived the first winter without begging lumps of coal from the local soup kitchen. So what if that super secure Lehman Brothers bond hadn’t exactly paid off? In times like these, there is comfort in incompetence.

Which sort of begs a question (for our present purposes, anyway): What other “blessings” do we have to be grateful for? Let’s start with the obvious:

Dana took Bryn to see Twilight—while Seth and Peter stayed home and watched the ballgame. If that’s not a blessing, what is?

Luke moved into the dorms at UCLA. He gets to sleep in every day, treat every meal like a buffet, come and go as he pleases, all without the daily scrutiny of his overbearing parents. What could be better?

Luke moved into the dorms at UCLA. More time to focus our daily scrutiny and overbearing parental instincts on making Bryn and Seth miserable instead! What could be better?

What could be better? How about family vacations?

Who doesn’t love a scraped-up minivan with a busted air conditioner?  Well, we don’t, for example. But when you have to make twice daily round-trips to the ballet studio, a buck eighty-seven for gas is pretty nice. You know, considering.

Rat traps. (Don’t ask.)

Almost forgot: Luke moved into the dorms at UCLA. Now Seth doesn’t have to share a room and instead can devote precious real estate to the 140-or-so stuffed animals with which he shares his bed. Which doesn’t explain why he continues to squeeze his scrawny nine-year-old frame into the narrow patch not covered by his velveteen menagerie, but at least he now has options.

Then there’s the President-elect. Seems like we ought to say something about him since he got Dana to work the phones and Bryn to wear his shirts and even Seth to stick stuff on his bedroom wall. Luke even worked the polls this year (twice, though he hastens to point out that it was a non-partisan endeavor). Now if we could just get that annoying bumper sticker off of the scraped-up minivan, Peter would be happy too.

There’s other stuff as well. Like a job, for instance. In this environment, that’s a pretty great thing. Food on the table, even if it isn’t served buffet-style as in the dorms. Oh, and Jason Mraz (Bryn wants him in here too). Teachers. Coaches. Friends. Microwave ovens (when you get home from ballet every night at nine, that’s pretty important). Yoga. Belts. Laptops. iPods (unless you put them through the washer). Chocolate (dark especially). Books. Rain (yeah, right). Sports. The Maple Conservatory of Dance. And of course family. Dysfunctional though it may be, it’s the most precious thing of all. You know, considering.