Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lessons Inspired by Rivalry Week

Abby, in her rivalry week garb

Five BYU fans on their way to the game

Both of Abby's teams, BYU and Stanford, won in heroic fashion last night. Both victories came down to the last play with each teams' fans rushing the field following last minute victories.  As fun as the BYU victory was, I couldn't help but reflect on the post-game ugliness on both sides.  This post does have something to do with Abby, so hang on as I develop this.

First there was Max Hall's post-game interview where he revealed how much he hated Utah, its players, its fans, its university, and its entire "classless" organization, and stated in an ironically classless way that Utah "deserved to lose that game"  (Really, Max?  They deserved to lose? They just held you to about 130 yards passing and forced you to throw more incomplete balls than you've ever thrown in a game. Did Utah really deserve to lose?)

Then there was the 40-year old male, Utah fan, who, as my 14-year teenage daughter was passing by him on a crowded post-game stadium stairs, ripped her BYU hat from her head and threw into a crowd of people, where it wasn't to be recovered.

About that same time, the wife of Utah coach Kyle Whittingham, was getting punched by a BYU fan in another scuffle.

Prior to all of that ugliness, I was sitting in the stands next to my older brother, David, and I asked him, "Is it bad to be so caught up in who wins this game?"  The hour before the game, I couldn't eat anything, as my nerves made my stomach queasy.  I continued, "I've been nervous all week, as I've thought about his game for much of it. Is that good or bad?"

Dave responded, "I don't think it's good.  I've been trying to temper my emotions too, and it hasn't worked."

"However," I said, "the rivalry is fun. It's fun to care so much that your knees are week, as mine are right now.  It's fun to want to win; it's fun to want to beat a team so badly that you have a hard time eating before the game.  I guess the big question is:  what does the game do to your soul?  Do we feel hatred?  Does losing ruin the rest of our year?  The hatred, the post-game loathing of the other team, and even the loathing of the defeated self is not good.  So, if I don't feel that way, I guess it's okay to be nervous and to get caught up in winning this game."

Of course, even "getting caught up in winning games" was so trivial just a few weeks ago. Let me touch on two memories.

The first was the 10-minute drive that we would make every day from Leslie Neumarker's home in  Menlo Park to Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.  We made that drive in Leslie's Nissan Pathfinder.  The first time I sat behind the wheel, I noticed that the radio dial in the Pathfinder was set to KDFC 102.1, a Bay Area classical music station.  Despite being a AM Sports and Political talk-radio junkie, I didn't change the station from Classical until well into our third week in town.  I remember distinctly thinking, as we made the drive to and from the hospital each day, how much I enjoyed the soothing sounds of that classical music.  Prior to the surgery, while uncertainty was at its peak, the music complemented The Spirit that was so deeply touching our lives.  We wanted nothing to distract from the peace that we were feeling. Talk Radio would have.  And in the immediate days following the surgery where we felt that strange mixture of gratitude for the blessing of what the surgeon called a "complete repair" and the melancholic feeling of being humbled by the fact that not everyone receives the same blessing, the things of The Spirit continued to weigh heavily on us and the classical  music of KDFC again did not distract from that but complemented it. I was involved in holy things, and I craved holy things, and I didn't want anything to get in the way.

The second memory is of my experience with the BYU-TCU football game that I didn't get to see.  This game was played four days prior to Abigail's surgery, and one day after our arrival at Lucile Packard.  I had waited 12 months for this game, a chance to avenge last year's humiliating blow out in Fort Worth. Of all the games that I wanted to be at this year, the TCU game was it.  The fact that ESPN's College Game Day's broadcast was coming to Provo for the game made it that much more important to me.  Even the national media was caught up in this game.

Naturally, the game's significance for me all but disappeared about 6:30 p.m. on October 19 when Abigail was ushered into the NICU.  But by the time game-time rolled around, we were settled in at Lucile Packard with a clear picture of what was in store for Abigail, and I was curious to watch or listen to the game, though my passion for it was appropriately tempered.

I stepped out of the NICU just before game time, and tried to find the game on the TV in the Parent's Lounge.  Because BYU games are broadcast on obscure cable channels, the game was not on the lineup offered by the hospital's cable feed, so I pulled up KSL on the internet, stuck my earphones into my laptop, and listened to Greg Wrubell call the game. I recall being interested in the game, and hoping that BYU would win, but not being a tenth as emotionally invested as I was at last night's Utah game.

As TCU proceeded to methodically dissect BYU's offense and defense en route to a 38-7 win, I recall a another curious emotion.  I was disappointed, as I wanted to believe that BYU's team was better than they were showing.  However, I distinctly remember that despite a little bit of disappointment,  I just didn't care too much about the loss.

These were sacred moments at Lucile Packard, moments that classical music complemented and moments that were not enriched by getting too worked up about a football game.

Yet, slowly the world and its cares butted its way into my life.  I recall the first time I was angry after Abby's birth.  It came about four days after surgery.  I had read an email from work, and some issue angered me.  About an hour later, I was driving in the car on the main highway, El Camino, that runs through Menlo Park and Palo Alto. Another driver did something that angered me and I felt justified (for about 10 seconds) in getting mad.  On both occasions, I remember feeling shocked by my anger--a feeling of shock that I wouldn't have had a few weeks prior.

Those of you who know me well, know that I am not a naturally patient person. Whether it be at work or on the tennis court, I tend to erupt quickly.  I am a reactor.  I react angrily when things don't go well. Fortunately, those eruptions are usually short-lived, and I often come to my senses quickly, "chill-out" and get to the business of solving the problem in a more emotionally stable way. I rarely stay mad for longer than a few minutes, and rarely let anger boil within me.

But still, my life prior to Abigial's birth was filled with many moments of quick outbursts of impatience and anger. Thus, the fact that I found myself shocked at those outbursts was in and of itself shocking.  Since when have I have been surprised at being angry??  But I had gone probably two weeks without any anger, which I attribute to the Spirit, and a re-emergence of the few priorities in life that really matter.

I realized after those first two outbursts that I had entered a new phase of this experience--the phase where I began to step foot in the "real world" where I would have the challenge of maintaining the spirit as I dealt with the necessary cares of the world.  At some point I had to go back to work.  At some point, I would have to respond to the big kids who wouldn't always make the right decisions. At some point, I would be at another football game, faced with the choice to either appreciate the good things about a rivalry or to hate the rival.

Of all the lessons learned from our journey with Abigail, I have pondered this one the most:  how do I keep one foot in heaven and one foot in the real world?

I have often wondered why it is that we spend nearly one third of our lives--30% of our probationary period--working, and being consumed with the things of this world.  I spend 30% of my life trying to earn money--something that the scriptures tells us must be a lower priority.  So, if the pursuit of money must be a low priority, why do we  have to spend 30% of our lives working?  Because it is precisely in work-type environments where we learn who we really are, and  where we are prove our worthiness or lack thereof.

It's easy to be a nice person in a Children's hospital. It's easy to think good thoughts, to say nice things, to have your priorities in line, and to be genuinely concerned about the welfare and trials of others when your child is in the NICU. It's easy to be Christlike when you're faced with matters of life or death, when you are compelled to rely on mercy of God for the health of your child.  It's easy to feel the spirit when  you have no other choice. Saints aren't made in Children's Hospitals; saints are merely inspired by Children's Hospitals--but they prove their worth and pass their tests when they're back in the real world.

Unfortunately, I've failed several of those tests since entering the real world after Abigail's surgery.  The first failure was my first Sunday home. I had looked so forward to getting home, and savoring the Big Four; I had plans of being the greatest, most patient, most invested father ever.  I was going to love them like I never had.

That lasted about twelve hours.

Twelve hours after our celebratory homecoming we found ourselves in Sacrament Meeting.  Lisa was at home with the baby, and I sat with the Big Four in the overflow in cultural hall on the metal chairs that are stored under the stage.  The speakers at the service were a missionary who just leaving for Brazil, and another missionary returning from Spain.  The missionary who was leaving was prepared, and the missionary who was coming home had obviously served a dedicated mission.  I wanted my kids to participate in the spirit of that meeting.  Unfortunately, to put it mildly, they didn't share that same desire.

At one point, Sami had Jeffrey in something resembling a headlock, and Daphne and Emma appeared to be in a contest of who could speak the loudest.  The first five or six times I asked the kids to be more reverent, I did so kindly, and with patience.  But with each ignored request for reverence,  my patience was growing exponentially more thin.  Before too long, I had forgotten all the intentions I had for their spiritual enlightenment from the meeting, and was now set on just getting to be quiet.  As embarrassed as I am to admit it, my motivation for helping kids be more reverent turned from a concern for their welfare to my concern about those around us might think of my parenting:  I quickly became more concerned about how my kids' noise was affecting those around us, and I was now embarrassed at what I imagined they were thinking:  Why haven't the Reeves taught their kids how to behave?  You know that you're no longer in tune to the spirit when your motivation for being good or for teaching your children to be good is based on a desire to "look good" for the neighbors.

Not surprisingly, the more I worried about our neighbors' opinion of me, the more angry I got, until my anger climaxed with a tight squeeze of Daphne's bare arm, a squeeze that was intended to inflict sufficient pain to stop to the talking.  I then threw a verbal dagger at Sami and Jeffrey, as I whispered, "You two should be proud of yourselves.  You've succeeded in ruining this meeting not only for yourselves, but for all those around you.  Nice work, you two." Not one syllable of that verbal reproof was spoken in a spirit of love.

As I finished with Sami and Jeffrey, I glanced at Daphne, who was inspecting her father's fingernail prints in her bare arm.  I had failed.  Twelve hours after our celebratory homecoming, I had momentarily forgotten everything I had learned in the last month; I had forgotten all the promises I had made about how great of a father I was going to become; I had forgotten how my heart had changed.

When sacrament meeting ended, I said goodbye to my kids, as they went their separate ways to Sunday School and Primary.  I stood in the cultural hall,  watching my kids disappear, a bit distraught that I was the same old Jeff that I was before Abigail was born.  As I stood in the cultural hall, I began to reflect on an email that I had sent to a friend while I was at Lucile Packard.

My friend had emailed to me thank me for writing the blog, and for sharing this experience with him.  He then shared this:
I know this sounds retarded because I would never want to go through what you guys have been going through, but a little part of me is jealous of the experience.  Times like this really do help remind you of what is important, and I know I certainly need that reminder from time to time.
I replied with the following thought that returned to be as I stood alone in the cultural hall:  
Yeah, I wouldn't wish this on anyone, but then again I would in a minute.  So hard yet so beautiful.  Your time will come in some way--it may not be the illness or death of a child or spouse, but it will be something that will try your faith and cause you to completely surrender.
The challenge for all of us who emerge from such a trial is to not forget what we've felt.  When you go through something like this you lose all desire for things that aren't holy, and then slowly, as your troubles fade, your interest in unholy things returns.  I can only hope that this feeling lasts, and that if I tend to forget it, that I can return to it when I need strength.  My father wrote me a letter when I was a missionary and he said the following, which has some application here:  "Make sure to keep a journal; it will be a reservoir of spiritual experiences from which you can drink in times of spiritual drought."
I hope that the pages I have written will be a reservoir for me when I'm in a drought sometime in the future.  That drought will come--it always does. The question is--will I remember which reservoir to turn to?
At that moment I thought of the reservoir of spiritual experiences that we had filled for four weeks; I thought of how my heart had changed, and the tender prayers we had offered; I thought of the perspective I had gained and the love I had felt.  I was in a drought, so I drank from that reservoir; I was back in the real world, so I put one more foot back in Heaven.

That is the challenge that we all face.  We all have to spend most of our time in the real world.  We work.  We go to rivalry games.  We make dinner.  We clean the house.  And in all those experiences, we are tried.  At work, a vendor, a customer, or a co-worker angers us.  At home, we clean the house, only to see the kids mess it up within minutes.  At the game, an opposing fan gets in our face. This is the real world that we always have at least one foot in. Our challenge is to remember in those day to day moments what we have felt when the spirit was with us, when God provided us a flood of light and Heaven; to keep one foot in Heaven and to return to the reservoir when the real world tries us.

It has been two weeks since that first failure. It disturbed me so much that I used it as leverage to change.  I have had a few more failure since then, but I am pleased to say that I have had more successes than failures.  I have been a little more slower to react, a little slower to forget, and lot quicker to remember and to return to my reservoir. And each time I resist the urge to jump back into the world with both feet by returning to my reservoir, I gain additional patience and additional light.  Sure, I continue to fail daily, but I tend to run back to that reservoir faster; I tend to want to repent faster.

As I said in an earlier post,we never arrive. We will continue to fail, but if we are humble enough and willing enough to return constantly to that reservoir our path to Heaven--though full of ups and downs--will trend gradually upward. Good night.


debi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thank you for that great insight. I really appreciate the spirit that comes in to my life as I read your blog about the trails and trumphs your family has been through. Thank you for sharing your life with me.

Aim said...

That top picture of Abby looks so much like Daphne. So cute in her Blue.

Larry Reeves said...

I just finished reading this and the previous two posts, to catch up! Thanks to both you and Lisa for sharing your thoughts and experiences. We have grown from following along and taking some small part in your learning and growth. We look forward to seeing you guys and meeting this sweet babe on Saturday!!

Kristi said...

Jeff, So well said. Thank you....from one who is trying so hard to keep stable feet.
Love you and LIsa,

Laurie said...

Just getting caught up on emails, blogs, bills, etc. after a vacation and was thrilled to see Abigail is home and doing well! Another gentle reminder that God lives, loves us, and performs miracles everyday. Thank God for modern medicine!

I had to laugh when reading about the sacrament arm grasp and comments that followed because it could have been Jack writing that paragraph. And oh how we try so hard as parents...

Thanks again for allowing us to peek into your life and watch as the miracle unfolded. Have a great holiday season.
Laurie Roddy xo

Insightful Nana said...

I sat behind you in sacrament meeting and your kids didn't bother me. I was so happy to see you all there.

Your comments are a reminder of the path we are all on. Two steps forward one step back.

I once heard that "awareness" was 90% of the game. I just pray to be more without being knocked aside of the head for awake up call.