Sometimes it takes an extraordinary experience to recognize the magic in the ordinary. Sometimes its losing someone you love so dearly that makes you realize the gift it is to have each day with the people you take for granted.
Today my Dad turns 81 years old! One year ago on this day I was in New Zealand with my parents and siblings for the trip of a life time. My amazing Father served a mission 60 years ago in New Zealand. I grew up hearing his missions stories of this amazing place and attending mission reunions where we would hear more stories and get a small taste of this beautiful culture. I longed to visit there one day and my Dad promised that one day we would go. Growing up the very middle child of 10 children we never had an abundance of money, just an abundance of love. I never imagined how this dream of seeing New Zealand would ever come about. 25 years later, my Dad was turning 80 and my brothers decided this was the year for our family to finally visit New Zealand together.
They offered to pay for the trip as an incentive for people to feel like they could make it work. It would be a dream come true but Benj was still so little and the thought of leaving him was excruciating. One night I prayed a very specific prayer explaining to God How much I wanted to go on this trip and fulfill my childhood dream but that in order to feel like I could go I would need to have another mother somehow be willing to take Benj while I was away. As I prayed I felt like the person who would be the best match for my wish was my dear friend Teresa. How on earth do you ask a person to take your baby so you can go across the world for several days? I knew I couldn’t consider asking her! As it turned out I didn’t have to ask, the very next day I saw Teresa and she said: what if I took Benj so that you won’t have to worry about him while you’re gone. It was as if the very longoing of my heart had been whispered to hers!
What pure miracle to have such a heartfelt prayer be answered so quickly and perfectly! The timing for this miracle couldnt have been better. With 1-year old twins, a newborn and 5 older children my days were filled with diapers, dishes and disciplining and my nights were spent loving my baby (which didn't leave me much sleeping time). To add to that we had just opened our wedding venue and the stress of how to manage and run a small business was weighing heavily on my mama heart. This escape from reality is just what I was craving.
The day before I departed I had the thought to live my last day at home for my family as if it were my last day with them so that they would have no doubt that their Mama loved them. When my daughter asked me to play a game with her I took the time to sit and play it. I went to my son’s basketball game even though there were plenty of other things I could have justified doing instead. I loved my babies more and just enjoyed the ordinary sweetness of being the Mom to my family. It was a perfect day. It was a perfectly ordinary perfect day. I remember wishing I had the strength to live every day like that day.
The trip to New Zealand was beyond magical. My brothers went to great lengths to make it in every way the most amazing time of all our lives. From meeting precious Maori people to hearing of stories of my Dad designing the landscaping for the famed hill of the Hamilton NZ, Temple.
From singing Christmas songs to residents of the local rest-home(just like we had done all growing up) to going to Hobitton (the set of the famed Movie Lord of the Rings), the glow worm caves and even Bungee jumping with my Dad for his 80th birthday (My Mom went too!!!).
Can I just pause this story to say, I couldn’t possibly love my Dad any more. I can barley write this without crying. He has lived his whole life as a sacrifice for those he loves. When I was struggling to know how to best share some research I had done in grad-school he spent hours asking me questions about it so that he could understand it well enough to advise me on how best to present it to others. Just a few weeks ago he came for a very short visit to Rexburg to attend a Veterans Day program. As a retired military veteran, he attended my daughter's program, then with the remaining hours he had left in the day he worked tirelessly to help me finish a making some tables for our venue that I had been longing to finish. We worked into the night. Finally after 1:30 AM we completed the job. I had so much weighing on my heart that day and I wanted to ask him to give me a Father's blessing. I felt so much guilt to ask him for anything since he had just sacrificed so much time to bless me already. I reluctantly asked him for a father’s blessing. In the darkness of the night he counceled with me and laid his hands on my head to bless me through the power of the priesthood with words of wisdom and comfort. The next morning there was a funeral they had wanted to attend so without hesitating, or even stopping to rest he packed up his clothes and left. I got into my warm bed as he drove straight home through the night in order to attend the funeral the next morning. My 80-year old father had pulled an all-nighter to serve me and my family. Although these examples are of extreme circumstances I could tell hundreds more stories of perfectly ordinary perfect moments with my Dad. He is brilliant, full of integrity, hard working and fun. I have never managed to beat him in tennis but he always applauds my efforts in trying. He serves his community in countless ways. He is currently serving his 3rd full time mission for the church with my angel mother.
How special it was to be in such a place to honor my Dad for his birthday. While we were there, one lovely Maori woman told our family that for the Maoris the most important thing in the world is: People, people people.
The trip was so unreal that even as I write this I almost can’t believe it ever happened. Perhaps the most lovely part of it all was experiencing the miracle of having my baby taken care of and the miracle that happened inside of me as I realized how much I loved my own family I had left behind. Having that perfectly ordinary day before I left made it such a pleasure to come home to my perfectly ordinary life after such an unreal adventure away from it. I felt such a sweetness about being home and such a love for those I had left behind. I thought so often of the Maori woman's words: "What matters most is: people, people, people."
A few weeks after our trip to New Zealand my dear father-in-law passed away unexpectedly. The sting of having him leave us so abruptly left me crying my eyes out for weeks at every thought of him. As I reflected on the life he had lived and the many accomplishments he had made, what stood out to me the most was all of the ordinary things he did. Not the awards or special honors he had received from his 40+ years as a faculty of UVU, head of the wellness center and trusted counselor to hundred of grateful students. No, what made my father in law great was how much he loved people. Just like the Maoris, he loved people. He loved my husband. He was his best friend, he loved my kids and he loved me. He showed his love by being present at all of our important life events. He was there for every baby blessing, ordination, and even special sporting events. He traveled hours and hours to watch a game that was minutes long. He wasn’t a man of many words but he didn’t have to say much to make you feel like a million bucks. I’m not a great connoisseur of country music but I love the song by Tim McGraw called: Live like you were dying. Truly, my father in law lived like he was dying.
Of course, you don’t have to go across the world to discover how perfectly wonderful it is to live your ordinary life. We don’t have to feel the risk of losing those we love to realize how precious they are to us. We don’t have to be given a few months to live in order to see life as the precious gift that it is. In order to live like we were dying, we just have to choose to live that way. To choose to make the people that are the most important part of your ordinary life feel like they are the most important thing in your world because in the end, that’s all that matters, people. People are what matter. Your people are what matter. God's whole work and Glory is people. shouldn't our glory be the same? people, people, people.