Sunday, November 25, 2012

Organize Yourselves

When we were preparing to move into our new house four months ago, I had a verse of scripture that kept banging around in my mind.

“Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing; and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of glory, a house of order, a house of God.” (D&C 88:119)

I still say it over and over to myself because it feels exciting. It reminds me of what I am doing. It reminds me of what I need to do. It gives me purpose. I enjoy the parallel between my work in building a household and the Lord’s instructions to the Saints at Kirtland to build their first temple. I feel that both kinds of work are based on a similar purpose.

But this work is painful. Excruciatingly so. Building a house, especially a house built on the principles in that verse, is dreadfully hard. I mean, I am at my wits end when I can finally crawl into my unmade bed. And I think most times that I am failing the commandment.

My house is a mess right now. There are broken Christmas ornaments on the floor upstairs, quick oats that I spilled on the kitchen floor, and a basket of laundry sitting on my couch. A bottle of nailpolish is dumped out artistically on my carpet, despite the 5 liters of acetone I just used trying to get it out. The cats’ litterbox is full of poop. There are hair ribbons all over the bathroom floor. I don’t have time to finish installing those closet doors. And the basement floor is suffocated in toys and coloring books and crap. Oh, and I need to shovel the driveway of snow.

I had the most exciting vision of my home when we were getting ready to move in. I was going to make a little sanctuary, this clean, polished, and pleasant place where the Holy Spirit could just curl up cozily in every corner and my children could blissfully develop their minds and souls with every new activity. Then life came and smacked me hard in the face and I am down for the count. So what do I do now? How do I organize myself? How do I establish a house? I sleep, I get up, I try to establish a house of God, and I fail. Everyday.

There is an image in my mind, one that I must have seen somewhere, of your typical housewife. She has a housecoat on and there are bags under her eyes. Her hair is frizzy and I think she has a wooden spoon in her hand. I like to think of her, my patron saint, in moments like this, and I plead to her for comfort. I wish there was more she could offer. Because I am a man, I can never quite fit into her fuzzy slippers. Perhaps one day there will be another caricature made, one of a househusband in a housecoat, with some heavy stubble on his face and a deranged expression, holding a screaming baby, with a caption above him saying something like, “God give me patience but please hurry!” Something simple that reminds me that it is okay to feel this way, that every Dad feels this way, and it’s normal. It’s just temporary insanity. You’ll get through this. But for now, I feel like the only father who starts his day furiously spiteful because of the way rice crispies dry onto bowls. Because, yes, we had them for supper last night. And yes, they were still sitting on the table.

I am not trying to imply that my wife is blissfully going to school each day, coming home smiling to put up her feet and read the paper. She is every bit as frazzled as I am, and we can commiserate fairly well. I work too, and so I have my escape from the drudgery of this house too. But we both are struggling to stay afloat. It seems to me that the Proclamation’s mandate to “Help each other as equal partners” just means that we both end up losing our minds. Establishing a house requires both of us to be pushed to our limits over and over and over again.

But somehow in all this I believe, or want to believe, that I am establishing something worthwhile. I want to believe that my house is worth comparing to the temple, that it is like a place of refuge, a house of God. I want to believe that the work going on in these walls is holy, and that my family life will be as eternal as the work in the temple. I like to think that scrubbing burnt rice off the bottom of this pot has a more divine purpose. And even though my house is a disgrace and my children look like ragamuffins, I want to believe that my offering will be as acceptable as the offering of the Saints at Kirtland.

And so I will wake up tomorrow morning with that scripture rattling around in my brain again. I will pretend to sound cheerful when I wake up my daughter for kindergarten. I will try to organize myself—hopelessly, but I will try—and I will try to prepare every needful thing. I will try and remember to say a prayer with my family before we jump into the fray. I will try to fast and put my spiritual needs above my physical demands. I will try to develop faith and live it so that my children will develop their own faith. I will try to encourage learning, both secular and gospel learning. I will make my house as glorious as I can, even though I can’t really make ends meet right now, and I will try to make my house a house of order. I will try again tomorrow—however unsuccessfully—to make my house into a house of God.

Thursday, November 1, 2012


The emphasis on family history and temples has been increasing in the church. Or maybe my ears have just been tuned in to it better. The last couple of conferences seemed to emphasize the growing push for family history to be done, and the latest letter from the First Presidency was about doing your own family history and taking the names of your ancestors to the temple.

I happen to love genealogy. Yes, I am one of "those."  I started doing genealogy when my son was born. I was feeling a growing emptiness inside me then. It was winter, my wife was in school, and I was trapped inside my house, restless, depressed, and feeling cut off from people and the world. As any man in such conditions would do (muffled laughter), I wrote poetry:

In my dreams, I dissolve myself out of shell
And out of mind.
Like a hermit crab grown too large for his home,
With a brain that bangs, claws, zings into next.

Man is such an empty word.
I can hear the emptiness plain
When I shove my ear
Against my chest.

I thought about what it would be like to cut myself loose from all my social/familial entanglements, move myself far away, preferably close to a beach and with a pretty garden. No human responsibility, no human anything.

I don't remember how it started, boredom perhaps, but I started doing genealogy. I searched out my history and I was surprised by how easy it was, with the convenience of search engines and digitized images of birth records, newspaper archives, and parish transcripts. I felt a spirit move upon me that changed me inside. I felt a new sense of connection, the turning of my heart to generations gone before, which also seemed to turn my heart to accept my children and the generations ahead.

I remember the feeling of discovery, late at night, bouncing my newborn son’s baby chair with my foot for him to sleep while I sifted through genealogical records online. With my son at my feet and my ancestors at my fingertips, I felt an overwhelming sense of connection. My thoughts of isolation, loneliness, and meaninglessness faded away, and I learned about the power I had as a father. My ancestors had families, they had left me a legacy and, most sobering, my children would pass on a part of me.

When I was married in that holy room between two mirrors, I was clasped fast between innumerable years of past and future. An eternal past, and an eternal future. I existed as one still-life frame in eternity.

I feel the weight of expectation at times, but I also feel the freedom and blessing of my covenants.

In any tree, there are roots. In my own family there are strong roots of history and tradition:  pioneers with handcarts, marriages, divorces, birth, death, suffering, sacrifice, and faith. A person does not need to have an extensive Mormon pedigree to discover those things. I once wondered if those things tied me down, frustrated my passions, inhibited my development. Perhaps. But when I look beyond myself, outside of my selfish desires and ambitions, I find that these roots also give me something more, like stability, spiritual nourishment, and hope.

And then there are the branches, the fruit, the seed, the blessings. My children mean more to me than my own life, even though I feel stretched beyond my capacity to bear them as their father. The fruit is often bitter, as Eve discovered, but after the sorrow, in quiet moments of appreciation, I feel "my eyes have been opened" and I can understand the purpose of my life in a new way.

The Savior said, "I am the vine, ye are the branches. He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing." 

And so I try to do my part and stay connected.