I’m Pretty Sure I’m Psychic. Or At Least I Hope So.

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Dear Will:

Years ago, in the midst of a long, mind-numbing road trip with the family, I introduced my kids to a game that had not existed five minutes prior. Making it up as I went, I outlined the rules: I announce a category of my own choosing—let’s say “Animals.” Then I silently select a specific item from that category and try to tell you what I’m thinking without saying a thing—no gestures, no other clues of any kind. “I must communicate to you solely through the sheer force of my prodigious, telepathic powers,” I told them. “Even now I am sending forth psychic emanations! I am devoting all available synapses to this one thing! Divine it, and we shall have achieved . . . PSYCHIC WONDER!”

In case you didn’t recognize it, this is fun. Or as my wife, Dana, might put it: insufferable. (Which, just between you and me, is what actually makes it fun. Don’t tell her I said so.) Nevertheless, in spite of its manifest stupidity, it was the ridiculousness of Psychic Wonder that made it for me somewhat irresistible in moments when I was feeling silly or when I saw an opportunity to embarrass my children (also fun). Thus I frequently subjected a backseat full of carpoolers to Psychic Wonder on the way to school. Alas, the game never really lasted very long—for some reason I never found anyone as good at it as I was.

Over the years, I introduced my children to a number of these not-quite-games, invented on the fly and precisely honed in the carpool laboratory. Sometimes we “played” Factoids or Poetry Hour or a thing I called Life Is Like, in which one person would begin a simile and everyone else would have to try to Forrest-Gump a suitable ending. (Go ahead. Give it a try: “Life is like a box of Hamburger Helper. . . .” FUN!) Or here’s another one that Dana “loves”: Shamu or Celery. I choose a random something-or-other (nose hairs!) and then we debate whether that something-or-other is more like Shamu or more like celery. (The correct answer, in this case, is celery. Obviously.) That game just might be Dana’s all-time favorite, as you can imagine.

I ask you: What’s a better way to fill the 15 minutes between home and La Veta Elementary? Throw into the background some not-so-classic rock from decades prior and you’ll be pulling up into the drop-off zone in no time. Not only will you have amused and delighted approximately one person in the car, but the kids will be pushing and shoving, climbing over each other to get out the door and onto the curb, looking at your son as if to say, “Luke: What’s with your dad?”

I miss those mornings, winding through the streets of Orange with a Mazda full of braces and nervous energy. Sadly, my carpool days long ago receded into my rearview mirror. Luke, now all grown up, married and established, drives himself to work each day; Bryn, committed to doing what she can to save the planet, prefers a bike or public transit as she completes her degree; and Seth, working as a missionary in Salto de Guairá, Paraguay, has little choice but to walk everyplace he goes. I now find myself commuting in an empty car, inching along the 405 freeway, alone with my thoughts, hoping that somehow, way back when, somewhere between the garage and the crossing-guard, my kids got the message embedded within that early-morning nonsense, conveyed to them by something more heartfelt than psychic emanations. Conveyed to them even now, as I write this and hope that in this moment they can divine what I’m thinking, no matter how far away they may be.

So that maybe the next time someone asks “What’s with your dad?,” they’ll immediately know the answer, and they’ll feel it—deep down. PSYCHIC WONDER!

PW

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BINGO!

Backseat Bingo

Dear Will:

Many years ago, I was in charge of a marketing research study being fielded at the LA Auto Show. So on Saturday morning I buckled my son Luke into his booster-seat (he was maybe five or six at the time) and we made the drive to the LA Convention Center from our home in Mission Viejo to check on my team of clipboard-wielding researchers. To keep him occupied as we drove, I gave Luke one of those bingo cards you use to keep kids entertained on road trips.

Red car? Check. Stop sign? Check. Overpass? Check. Near the end of our 100-mile roundtrip, Luke had spied almost every one of the 25 items on the card. As we sailed past the Tustin Market­place in the light weekend traffic, he informed me that the only thing he hadn’t spotted was a police car. “Seriously?” I exclaimed in disbelief. “We go all the way to LA and back and we don’t see even ONE police car? Come on! That should be an easy one. We can do this!”

Not even 60 seconds later—I kid you not—a red light appeared in my rearview mirror. It was like some sort of cosmic joke, and I was the punchline. As I rolled down my window, I greeted the CHP officer with a pained smile and said: “BINGO!” I won’t recount to you what else was going through my head at the time, but you can bet it wasn’t plucked from the pages of scripture. Had I purer heart and a clearer sense of irony, I might have envisioned a grinning Savior, winking as He gently repeated a familiar phrase from the Sermon on the Mount: “Seek, and ye shall find” (Matthew 7:7).

Now I don’t believe for a minute that when Jesus first said those words he was trying to help us win backseat bingo. But the idea is repeated frequently enough in holy writ that it’s clear that God is eager for us to seek His help as we earnestly search for things of worth that truly matter to us. It’s a foundational principle. I have marveled, for instance, at how often children recount times in which they have lost something precious, whispered a tender prayer, and then found what they had misplaced almost immediately thereafter. I have wondered if this is how God introduces kids to the language of the Spirit.

Now perhaps you are more cynical than I. You consider all of this and say: “Yeah, well, it doesn’t work that way for me.” You would certainly not be alone in that sentiment, but let me caution that in so saying you may be echoing Lehi’s recalcitrant sons, who complained that God would not answer their prayers even though (they admitted) they hadn’t even bothered to ask (see: 1 Nephi 15:1-9). Note that in Jesus’s famous sermon the seeking precedes the finding.

Just the other day, a friend of mine asked me if I knew of a shoe repair shop here in the neighborhood. I admitted that I did not. A couple of days later I was driving down Chapman Avenue as I have several times a week for the last 20 years. And—wouldn’t you know it—I spotted an old, dusty shoe repair shop just minutes from my home, a shop that has likely been there for years. It then occurred to me that the shop didn’t suddenly appear; it wasn’t until I began searching that I spotted what had likely been there all along.

So it is with the things of God. When we seek, He helps us find what we may have otherwise overlooked.  Which leads me to ask: What are YOU searching for? And what are you going to do about it?

PW

Don’t Follow Me

Lake Ediza

Dear Will:

When you’re camping in the backcountry, something tugs at you, and you pretty much HAVE to throw some water and a protein bar into a daypack and head off to find out what’s on the other side of that ridge. Thus on a recent trip to the High Sierras I found myself wobbling across a log bridge and climbing a massive chunk of rock to see what I could see. My climb took me into the midst of a tangle of streams where I beheld a lovely view of Lake Ediza below. But THEN, I looked back toward our campsite and beyond, through an opening in the distant trees, and I saw this:

Double Waterfall

Makes you want to grab your daypack and go, doesn’t it? I immediately declared to anyone who would listen and several who wouldn’t that tomorrow we were all going to head off in search of the double waterfall. Which we did. Now as it turned out, that cascade tumbled down the mountain just 10 minutes from our campsite, leaving us plenty of time to respond again to that familiar tug: “Where does all of this water come from? Let’s find out.”

So we kept climbing, following the stream up and up until we came to a glacier scooped into the base of some magnificent, jagged peaks. From underneath the ice, you could see the meltwater forming drip by drip, a beard-stroking reminder of where double waterfalls ultimately come from. Wow.

Meltwater

The trip back to our campsite seemed simple enough: retrace our steps along the intermittent path that meandered more or less along the stream. We talked as we clambered over rocks and ducked under branches, distracted by the wonder of wilderness. Imagine my surprise, then, when the path I had chosen spilled out onto the shore of the lake, well below the spot where we had set up camp. What?

Somehow we had lost our way. No, lost is too strong a word, for we knew where we were. We just weren’t where we intended to be. So rather than enjoy a whistling-and-skipping descent beside a mountain stream, we had to trudge and wheeze—up and up—to return from whence we started. (You know how Grandpa talks about walking “uphill both ways” to get to and from school? Well, that day we were Grandpa.) I look back on that pointless detour and I’m dumbfounded. Where did I make the wrong turn? How did I manage to make that hike so much harder than it needed to be? I just don’t get it.

And yet, I do. Figuratively speaking, you might say I have climbed this hill before. How many times have I made a muddle of things in life when a straighter, truer course had already been laid out before me? How often do I still find myself ascending a hill for a second or third time, or worse: straining up an incline I should never have had to climb in the first place? How often do I become distracted from my purpose or think I know a better way, only to find myself suffering some self-imposed adversity? So dumb. So unnecessary. And way too typical.

I know: It need not be this way. On Sunday mornings we sometimes sing that Jesus “marked the path and led the way.” All we have to do is follow. So I declare to anyone who will listen (and several who won’t): Let’s find out what’s on the other side of that ridge. But don’t follow me. Follow HIM.

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PW