Finding Delight

I love podcasts.

Okay, that’s not totally true. Most of the podcasts I come across I consider idiotic wastes of time. So it would be more accurate to say I love a select few podcasts. Anyway, I was listening to one of the few podcasts I truly enjoy this past weekend and the topic was about delight: what is delight and how do we find it. In these current days of never-ending monotony, it was a truly uplifting hour. And it got me thinking about when I have experienced moments of delight or true joy in my life.

Now the culture in which I exist asks this kind of question all the time. When are you truly happy? What is true happiness versus momentary joy that is fake or unsustainable? Of course the expected answer in those constructed moments is that my faith, my good choices and my family are what brings me true sustainable joy. And I acknowledge those answers to be true. But in reality, those very things also bring me some of the biggest frustrations in my life. So that realization made me reflect a little deeper with the hope that I could identify when I have felt most at peace, most contented, most delighted.

Over the last few years, I can pinpoint several moments when I have felt truly peaceful and contented. And it is interesting to me how many of these events share similar characteristics. What is also interesting to me is how I have documented a few of them, but most I haven’t. I’ve never been a great journal keeper and one of the main reasons is, I can’t figure out who would ever want to read about my life. Having lived it, I can attest that it is remarkably uninteresting.

Yet, I blog. For what purpose? None, really, other than it provides an outlet for me. But looking back at my posts over the years, I realize it is somewhat like a journal and it’s probably the closest I will get to effectively journaling. So today, I’ve decided to document those moments I can recall with perfect clarity when I have felt pure joy and contentment. I know there are probably many others, but these stick out in my memory for reasons I cannot explain. Anyway, without further ado, my moments of delight.

5th Anniversary Trip

For the first five years of our marriage, Shannon and I did not go on a vacation by ourselves. We went on a trip with my parents (which they largely paid for) and maybe the odd overnight getaway, but never a true vacation. For our fifth anniversary we decided to change that.

Now our actual anniversary is in January, but we weren’t able to get away until the end of February. Nevertheless, we were excited to go spend a week in Disneyland and see this brand new park that had opened up just a couple weeks earlier called, Disney’s California Adventure. Overall, it was an amazing trip. Everything about it was great. It was rainy and so the crowds were remarkably light. We walked on to just about every attraction all week. I remember going on Soarin’ Over California for the first time and being awestruck. It’s still my favorite theme park ride out there.

Unfortunately, so much of that trip has been lost to memory. I don’t recall exactly where we stayed. I don’t remember what we ate. We were there for a total of three days and I don’t remember maybe even an hour’s worth of experiences. But there is one part of that trip I can recall with vivid clarity and I can still feel the joy associated with it. What memory could be so worthy?

The drive.

Okay, not the entire drive necessarily. In fact, the moment I recall is very short, but I love it. In the early days of our marriage, Shannon was not inclined to rise before the sun. She often railed against the very idea. But that first morning, I convinced her we needed to get up about 4:30 a.m. and get on the road. It was dark as we left our condo in Mesa and drove across Phoenix. As we passed Buckeye, the first light of morning started to illuminate the open expanse of desert all around us. The road was a dual strip of asphalt that stretched as far as we could see and the colors playing off the mountain to our right were spectacular. We were listening to our favorite CD’s because we weren’t really radio people and iPods were not a thing yet. In that moment, I felt…free, happy, content and delighted.

As I stated before, the entire trip was wonderful, but if I could bottle one moment and relive it periodically, it would be that moment in the car just a few miles outside of Buckeye, AZ. I was sitting next to my best friend. I was enjoying music that seemed to understand and compliment the scenery unfolding in front of us. The morning was brand new, symbolizing the anticipation we felt as we headed out on our first “family vacation.” It was amazing. Since then, leaving on road trips before the sun rises has become a thing for me. Maybe it’s because I just love that feeling and am constantly trying to recapture it.

Holding Maggie

I didn’t want a fifth child. I was happy with four. Very happy. So when I found out we would be welcoming a fifth child into our home in the same year I turned 40, I was not as excited as a new parent probably should be. But the first time I held Maggie, it was perfect. In many ways, it was no different than when I held my other children for the first time. But with Maggie, I was in need of a severe heart softening. I knew in the weeks leading up to that morning that I would do my best to be a good dad. I knew I would fulfill my familial responsibilities to this child. What I didn’t know was how I would feel toward this little girl because prior to her arrival. What I did know was that I resented all the life rearranging she had caused to interfere with my well-planned out existence.

When the nurse handed her to me, that all changed. She was perfect. And she was perfect every time I held her after that. She was perfect as I held her in my recliner at home, rocking her to sleep. She was so perfect, that I was reluctant to let anybody else have that experience of getting her to sleep at night. She fit so perfectly on my chest and she would lay so still. I miss those evenings with a desperation I cannot begin to describe. They truly were an unforgettable delight.

Still My Sweetie, at 4 Years Old

Kaanapali Beach – 15th Anniversary

When people talk about going to their “happy place,” this is the place I think of. For our 15th anniversary, Shannon and I traveled to the islands of Maui and Oahu for a week-long getaway. The first morning after our arrival, I woke up early (which I always do when I travel) and slipped out to the beach just beyond our hotel while Shannon got a bit more sleep.

If you look up top 10 beaches in the world on the internet, Maui’s Kaanapali beach will show up on a lot of those lists, and rightfully so. The sand, the water, the view…they are all beyond amazing. Which is why I was stunned to find myself entirely alone that morning. Yes, it was 6 a.m. but still. I could literally see only one other person, approximately half a mile down the beach, walking a dog. Beyond that, there was not a single other soul within view.

The horizon had a pink hue to it and I could see the islands of Lanai and Molokai off in the distance. The water was perfectly clear and neither warm nor cold. The sand was the whitest and softest I’d ever experienced. I’ve taken a lot of deep breaths in my life, but none has ever put me in a relaxed state like the one I took that morning as I lay with my legs slightly submerged in the water, leaning back on my elbows, just staring out at the perfect horizon. I consider that morning a personal gift from God. I realize I was probably just lucky; that it was the right time of year to be there, that it was earlier than most people would be out, that…fill in the excuse. But to me, it will always be a personal moment between me and my Creator as He showed me just a glimpse of the true delights He is capable of.

Wrong Time of Day, But Still Amazing

The Guys Trip

I can already see the eyes rolling as I say one of my moments of pure delight was on a guys’ weekend, largely due to the reputation associated with a guys’ weekend. How can four dudes hanging out in San Diego produce moments as meaningful as the ones described above? Well, what can I say?

Last year, my golfing friends and I traveled to San Diego to golf the world famous Torrey Pines Golf Club. It was a trip we had been planning for two years. So much about the trip was great. The golf was beautiful. The weather outstanding. My obnoxious golf shirt with a parrot/palm frond pattern was exquisite. But the two moments that I look back and remember as being filled with joy had little to do with golf. The night we arrived in San Diego, the four of us went looking for a place to eat in the commercial section of the village we were staying in. We found a nice little restaurant that served amazingly good food. The memory of contentment is the camaraderie of four friends. We have been golfing together for well over 10 years. We have seen each other through a lot of life’s different twists and turns. Hopefully that will continue long into the future. But that night, it just felt like a culmination of what good friendship should be. We tried taking a selfie only to learn that apparently 40+ year-old men are not very good at selfie taking. Dan called us a bunch of girls, which earned several glares from the table next to us which was filled with actual girls/women. To this day, we refer to that evening as Girl’s Night. The golf that played out over the next three days was great, but none of it was quite as delightful as that night was for me.

Along the same lines, the next night one of the guys and I walked over to the beach near our rental. Without any real plan, we set off walking past the hundreds of people playing on the beach and in the water as the sun set on the ocean. The conversation drifted all over from deep life topics to very surface non-important topics. I don’t even remember any specific thing we talked about. I just remember the bond of friendship. I’ve always appreciated good friends. These selected memories of that weekend are symbolic to me of what good friendship can and should be.

Play It Where It Lies
I Told You My Shirt Was Awesome
Last Day At Coronado Island Golf Club Was Pretty Legit As Well

Seattle – The Hike

Shannon and I had never been to Seattle before I got a chance to go for a business trip in 2018. It’s a beautiful city and we had a great time experiencing all that it had to offer. But the moment of true peace and joy for me came on our first full morning there. We had awoken to some unfortunate news that would have required our immediate attention if we were home, but we weren’t. So there was little we could do except continue on with our planned morning, which included a drive and then hike at Wallace Falls State Park.

In that morning of turmoil, a hike through some of the most beautiful forest I had ever experienced, with my ultimate best friend, was the exact thing I needed to bring a little peace to my soul. Hiking in the desert beauty of Arizona is something not to be missed. But hiking through a literal rain forest in the Pacific Northwest, at least for me, holds no equal. The views spoke to me. I desperately wanted to capture what I was seeing on “film”, but as anyone can guess, that was impossible.

I can remember the smell of the soggy wet earth. I can remember the cold that caused the slightest running of my nose, but yet was not unpleasant. I can remember the feel of an occasional raindrop as the weather remained undecided on which course of action to take. And I remember the awe-inspiring beauty of the falls when they came into view. I remember being grateful for what I was seeing and that I could see it with Shannon. The memories associated with that morning are a shared delight we hope to see again in the future.

Again, Pictures Don’t Do These Well Over 100-Foot Falls Justice

On The Road Again

The last two years I have taken my two sons and embarked on ridiculously long road trips across great stretches of our nation. In 2018, we traveled to New Orleans via San Antonio to see the July 4th fireworks on the Mississippi and visit Tulane University. In 2019, we traveled to Salt Lake City, UT, Rexburg, ID, Reno, NV, San Francisco, CA and Los Angeles, CA to visit BYU, BYU-I, and Stanford and see Hamilton in San Francisco. We also planned on watching the July 4th fireworks over the bay near the Golden Gate Bridge, but learned that fog generally kills that experience.

Both of those trips are filled with memories that I will cherish for the rest of my life. Not many dads get to have this kind of experience with their sons. Not many dads have teenage sons who would necessarily want to do this with their dad, so right there I feel incredibly grateful.

But the two memories that stick out the most with regard to peace, contentment and pure delight are a mirror of the memory I started this post with. Both trips began long before the sun rose. On our first trip, we discovered the joy of listening to the podcast This American Life. With absolute clarity, I can still remember the peace and gratitude I felt as we drove through Lordsburg, NM, the sun just beginning to rise, as we listened to the struggles of Abdi Nor. Abdi is a Somali refugee to our country and the podcast chronicled his experience of winning the immigration lottery and the travails he would experience along the way to eventually arriving in America. I can’t begin to explain the emotions I had listening to his story and all the sacrifices he had made as the dawn rose on the first day of our “historic” trip. Both of my boys were listening with rapt attention just as I was. Despite the anxiety associated with the podcast, I remember feeling peace and contentment as we drove, the anticipation of all we would experience ahead of us. Just as it had been almost 20 years earlier, the experience was remarkable. It has stayed with me more strongly than so many events of that trip. It’s a feeling I wish I could duplicate. However, I have learned that most of the time, you must enjoy those moments when they come because they cannot be planned and they cannot be replicated. They just come, and then they leave.

Thankfully, a year later, I would experience the same feelings as our trip began. I can remember the sun rising over the Salt River Canyon as we neared Show Low, AZ. My boys will eventually grow up and leave me. One will actually do so in less than two months. But I will always have those early morning delights that no one can take away.

From Our Driveway at 3:15 a.m. Before Setting Out for SLC in 2019
Official BYU Visit 2019
The Name Above It All Speaks For Itself. San Fran 2019
Official Stanford Visit 2019
Jackson Square 2018
The Mighty Mississippi, July 4, 2018

Music

Finally, I cannot deny that some of my most contented and peaceful moments on this earth have come through encounters with music. Two of those moments came in All-State Choir concerts in which my son, Braden, has taken part. When done right, music can transport my soul, and both of those concerts accomplished that for me. Unfortunately, this past Saturday would have been my son’s third and last opportunity to take part in the Arizona All-State Choir Festival. It would have been held at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium. It was the one event he had been looking forward to more than any other during this, his senior year. But like so many other events across the world, it’s gone. It also would have been my son Logan’s first opportunity to try out and possibly take part. It was huge loss for our family.

But thank heavens for the two concerts we do have and the possible future concerts that remain. I love music. I love listening to it, I love making it, I just love being a part of it in any way. The feelings of peace, joy, and delight that music provides I have felt not only in Braden’s concerts, but also my daughter Abby’s concerts at EAC, Shannon and I’s own concert experiences at EAC, various professional concerts we have attended in a variety of genres, and so much more. But one area that rarely fails to provide me an experience worth remembering is musical theater. One other aspect of the second trip I took with my sons was the opportunity to see Hamilton in San Francisco. I didn’t know much about it, but as I sat there and the production unfolded, I was blown away. It was truly incredible. And like so many times before, the music provided me a level of peace and delight that is all too rare in this earthly existence.

I am grateful for music. In fact, I am grateful for all of these experiences I’ve mentioned. I am grateful for them, and so many other delights in my life, and I am grateful to be allowed such clear and vivid memories of when pure contentment has settled upon my soul. For those who actually made it this far, I hope you take a moment and reflect on the moments of true delight in your life. During this COVID-19 event, you should have plenty of time to do so.

Are There Really Positives Here?

I have generally avoided overt expressions of religion on this blog. Actually, I suppose it could be said I have avoided any written expression of anything on this blog for the last two years. But before that, I rarely ventured too far into religious topics. It’s not that I’m not religious (I am) or that I’m ashamed of my religion (I’m not). It’s just a topic that didn’t necessarily fit the themes I tended to discuss. Today won’t be much different, but based on the topic, I don’t see how I can avoid religious tones altogether.

I feel like I need to start with a major disclaimer, so here goes. This shared experience we are having as a human species is terrible. I am shocked and saddened at the loss of life being experienced worldwide. I am extremely disheartened at the economic suffering so many are experiencing. In no way shape or form am I glad this is occurring nor would I ever hope to see this event again in my lifetime.

Is that strong enough? I hope so. Because on a personal level, it goes even deeper. I am one of those individuals with a senior in high school who is watching so many things he has waited his entire life for go down the drain. Arizona just announced this morning that school is done for the rest of the year. For him, that means that on top of the lost All-State Choral festival and an opportunity to perform on the stage at Arizona State University’s Gammage Auditorium (the one thing he cared about more than anything else this entire year), he will also be losing both his senior Morp and Prom, scholarship honors night, graduation, and the all-important graduation all-night party. Beyond that, he received his mission call (a letter telling him where he would be serving his two-year religious mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) to Dallas, Texas. He is supposed to report June 17th. Since that letter came, he has watched as missionaries from all over the world have been recalled. So even that life milestone that he has been looking forward to since early childhood is somewhat in limbo. He’s missing out on time spent with friends that will never be recovered. It’s been very tough for him and very tough as a parent to watch him grieve these losses that are piling up.

However, having said all that, there are times in our lives when we don’t get to decide the events that will shape our days, weeks or even months. The only thing we can decide is how to respond. And admittedly, there have been moments over the last three weeks that I have not responded as positively as I could have. But in the midst of all the frustration, I have noticed something.

I’ve noticed how truly lucky I am.

This past year has gone by at warp speed. My son, one of my best friends these last few years, has been hurtling towards adulthood and every day I could see my final moments with him at home just slipping away like sand in an hour glass. He was so busy with school activities, a job, friends and all the things associated with being a senior in high school that I didn’t get to see him all that often on a regular basis. But on March 13, all that changed.

Days still go by and the time for him to leave our little family unit is still coming far too quickly for me. On the other hand, I cannot complain that I am not getting enough time with him. For the first time in years, we are consistently having family dinner with everyone present every night. (With the obvious exception of my daughter Abby who is already adulting and whom we wish was home but recognize why she isn’t.) We have played more board games in the last two weeks as a family than we have played in the last six months. My younger children are getting a chance to be with and play with their older brother in ways they would never have had under normal circumstances. And in a time frame where normally every Saturday would be spent running from one year-end event to the next, we are finding time to go out as a family and…not rush to a single d*** thing.

I can’t lie. As selfish as this sounds, it has been a little bit of wonderful.

March, April and May of 2020 will totally shape these young people and the way they live their lives. Bonds formed, at least in my family, due to this horrific event will alter the trajectory of sibling and parent/child relationships for the next 50 years. That may sound like hyperbole, but I don’t think so. As a world society, we had gotten to a speed of life that, just maybe, was becoming unsustainable. So God shut it down.

Or maybe He didn’t. Maybe we as a species did that by ourselves with the agency we’ve been given. Regardless, it happened. And I am coming to see that if we so choose, it can possibly be one of the greatest things to ever happen to us.

Of course I am not speaking about those who are losing loved ones or those who are experiencing economic setbacks. But I am speaking about those who were maybe losing loved ones in a different way, but who are now being given an opportunity to salvage, repair or form those relationships in a positive way they wouldn’t have otherwise had.

COVID-19 will never be something I, nor anyone else I imagine, will look back on positively. But I can say with all certainty that these months spent in seclusion with my family will be memories I treasure forever.

My wife made an interesting observation this morning. She said that it occurred to her that this event we are going through could be compared to the Children of Israel and their interaction with a band of nasty, venomous snakes. Anyone the snakes bit was guaranteed a death sentence. However, the Lord, through Moses, provided a staff upon which they could look and be saved. That’s it. All they had to do was look at the staff and they wouldn’t die even if they had been bitten. It was so simple. And yet, because of how simple it was, there were many who wouldn’t do it. And they died.

To greatly enhance our chances of not only surviving this pandemic but emerging on the other side of it unscathed, all we have to do is stay home, social distance, be with our family. It’s that simple. And I am coming to see how great the blessings are if we do that. It’s not just that we’ll survive. We’ll gain so much more if we allow it. The memories made may not be what we expected, but they have the potential to be so much better. And yet, because of its simplicity, so many of us (me included at times) fight against it.

Well, I’m done. I’m done fighting it and I’m just going to enjoy the ride as much as possible. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to continue to watch multiple times a day for a sign that we are reaching the peak and beginning the descent back to normalcy. I’m going to mourn for those that have lost loved ones. (RIP Joe Diffie. You were one of my favorite artists all through college and I still smile a little every time I hear John Deere Green.) I’m going to do all I can to help those local businesses survive and I will hurt for those that are not sure where their financial security lies in the future.

But at the same time, I’m going to take this gift I’ve been given with my family and enjoy it to the fullest. I’m going to stay up a little bit later than I should each night and watch Jeopardy reruns with my boys. I’m going to let my Saturday to-do list go a little bit and spend those precious Saturdays experiencing local outdoor treasures I never even knew existed so close despite having lived in this area my entire life. I’m going to have dinner with my family every night. Heck, some nights I’m even going to make dinner for my family. Bottom line, I’m going to enjoy what I’ve been given, even if that gift came in a package I’d rather avoid.

Between us and God, we turned the world off. We might as well see what there is to see while it stays that way.

Where we spent this last Saturday as opposed to where we would have been expected to spend this last Saturday under normal circumstances.
Social Distancing at it’s best
How had I never been here before??? It’s only like 90 minutes away!