On Sacred Ground

Dear Will:

I’ve lived in California since I was seven years old, so those who know me probably don’t realize that I come from pioneer stock. Before they were married, my grandparents, Lloyd and Louise Taggart, were sent as children along with their families to settle the Bighorn Basin of Wyoming. But well before them, my grandfather’s grandfather, George Washington Taggart, crossed the plains along with many other Mormons in the mid-1800s. Some rode, but most walked on those journeys, in the process wearing holes into their simple shoes.

Holey shoes. Holy shoes.

I mention this because in a couple of weeks I’m taking my own children—the 6th generation—to their Wyoming homeland for the first time. We’ll travel up through South Pass, driving east along the path trod by our ancestors as they journeyed west. We’ll stop along the way at Rocky Ridge, where so many died in the blizzards of 1856. Men . . . women . . . children . . . giving their souls as the ultimate act of faith.

First their soles. Then their souls.

When I lead my family up onto that ridge, it may seem fitting for me to take off my own shoes as a tribute to those who wore so little on their feet when they traversed that path so long ago. Besides, it’s always appropriate to remove your shoes when walking on sacred ground.


Arms, Legs, Attitude, and Divinity

Dear Will:

Greetings from around the corner. I hope all is well with you and that your summer is shaping up to be full of fun, adventure, and prosperity. Failing that, then at least I hope you find a good book or two to read. I have several—I just don’t have time to read them.

But enough whining about petty things—here’s something really worth whining about: Today my oldest son Luke turned twelve. It didn’t exactly come upon me unawares, but it is a jolt nonetheless.

Feeling just a tad nostalgic, tonight my wife Dana and I leafed through photo albums, reminiscing about when he was little and cute. He’s still cute, of course, but in a completely different way. Now he’s all arms and legs and attitude, with a squeaky voice which reminds me that my little dude is quickly becoming (gulp!) a man.

The wondrous thing about watching a child grow is witnessing the discovery of interests and talents that seem to predate this mortal existence. Luke, we are finding out, is a reluctant pianist but gifted with the clarinet. He dislikes math yet won the Math Olympiad at his school. He is a fledgling artist (a genetic mutation if ever there was one) and, to my complete delight, a rather remarkable writer. I know that around twelve years ago I lost all ability to look at him objectively, but I do see in him a divine potential that I can only hope not to screw up.

Nevertheless, there is much that Luke still needs to learn, much that is far more important than the ability to paint a picture or compose an elegant phrase. I speak, of course, of the divine attributes which are the true sign of maturity. In that regard, Luke would do well to remember the words of our Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley:

There is something of divinity in you. You have such tremendous potential because of your inherited nature. Every one of you was endowed by your Father in Heaven with a tremendous capacity to do good in the world. Cultivate the art of being kind, of being thoughtful, of being helpful. Refine within you the quality of mercy which comes as a part of the divine attributes you inherited.  (Stand a Little Taller, p. 185)

That’s good advice for all of us, even people like me who don’t possess even a fraction of Luke’s talent and potential. Wouldn’t it be great if we all could cultivate a bit more of our divinity and in the process maybe make a difference in the lives of those around us? I know that my family would sure like it if I did.


Utterly Unthinkable

Dear Will:

I suspect that you have read with me the recent news of atrocities perpetrated by religious men against innocent children. My heart breaks as I consider the irreparable harm done by these evil men. I am saddened that those in a position to protect the children did little or nothing, sometimes even knowingly placing new, unsuspecting victims in harm’s way.

It is troubling indeed that for some there apparently remains some ambiguity on how to deal with those who harm God’s children—troubling in particular because I see no such ambiguity either in holy writ or in the instructions of our own religious leaders. I share with you, for example, the words of Elder Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoken last month in the Semi-Annual General Conference of our church:

There is nothing in the scriptures, there is nothing in what we publish, there is nothing in what we believe or teach that gives license to parents or anyone else to neglect or abuse or molest our own or anyone else’s children.

There is in the scriptures, there is in what we publish, there is in what we believe, there is in what we teach, counsel, commandments, even warnings that we are to protect, to love, to care for, and to “teach [children] to walk in the ways of truth” (Mosiah 4:15). To betray them is utterly unthinkable.

Among the strongest warnings and the severest penalties in the revelations are those relating to little children. Jesus said, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).

(By the way, if you are interested in reading or viewing Elder Packer’s entire address, you can find it here.)

I apologize for hitting you with such an awful subject in this month’s letter. But I felt inclined to reaffirm what the Gospel teaches us about our obligation to care for and nurture little children. It is a responsibility I feel most keenly since I have three such little ones in my care—and I feel so inadequate most of the time. My faith is that God will help me succeed—perhaps, at times, in spite of myself—provided I am making a genuine effort to get it right.

I pray that you may remain insulated from the evil that has touched the lives of so many innocent people, and that your children, and their children, may likewise be blessed and protected.