Jet Lag and a Trip to the Zoo

Dear Will:

Last week I found out I have to fly to Korea—one of those glamorous business trips during which you spend as much time going and coming as you do working. Should be awful.

Then I found out it is worse than I thought. The only way to get there in time for the meetings is to leave mid-day on Sunday, September 5. And when I arrive it will be Monday night. Labor Day will have disappeared altogether.

Cheer up, they told me. You get that day back on the return. That’s nice in theory, of course, but the truth is that I will have lost a 3-day weekend that I’m never getting back. And on Tuesday, while I’m schmoozing Koreans in Busan, my five-year-old Seth will be attending his first day of kindergarten. There’s something else I will miss that no crossing of the dateline will ever give me back. Let’s just say I’m not happy.

Seth, to his great credit, will hardly notice. The excitement of his new adventure will surely not have worn off by the time I drag back home on Wednesday night, just in time for . . . Back to School Night at Luke’s high school. I anticipate that the teachers I meet that night will find me charming if but a bit unkempt and maybe catatonic. What is it they say about having only one chance to make a good first impression? Luke’s teachers are sure to be dazzled.

Originally we had planned to spend Labor Day at the San Diego Zoo, but instead we’re going down on the Saturday before. No big deal except it means that I will miss my beloved UCLA Bruins’ opening football game, which I will tape and now watch—what?—a week later. Or probably not at all.

What a rough life I lead.

In contrast, my wife just had her third knee surgery last week. Afterward, the doctor informed her that her cartilage is so badly deteriorated that within a few years she will likely have to have knee replacement surgery. Elsewhere, a dear friend is facing a tragic divorce (is there any other kind?) after nearly 30 years of marriage. And another good friend has seen everything he has lived and worked for taken away from him after a series of bad choices and horrible decisions. His life is a wreck.

And here I’m complaining about jet lag and a trip to the zoo. Makes me so ashamed I’m tempted not to send this letter. But by now you probably know me well enough that my pettiness doesn’t surprise you. So . . . instead I shall take deep, cleansing breaths and try to maintain a little perspective: my kids are happily enrolled in excellent schools; my work is going so well that somebody on the other side of the world wants to pay for a couple of days of my time; and I live so close to one of the world’s great zoos that I can do it in a day trip. And besides, my Bruins are supposed to lose, so maybe I’ll be glad to have missed the game anyway. I’ll still miss that first day of kindergarten, but such is life. Right?

Here’s hoping that my miseries are always this profound—and no more so. And hoping that all is well with you.

PW

Another Blown Opportunity

Dear Will:

When I sat down at the dinner table tonight I announced: “After dinner I want to write a letter to Will.” Big mistake.

I had this notion that I could tell you about hiking over Piute Pass in the High Sierras, about the precarious climb over granite boulders and cascading waters that we later named Almost Falls, about rising in the middle of the night and standing transfixed, unable to stop staring at stars so numerous the moon need not have bothered coming to work. I knew I would be searching for a more articulate way to say “Wow!”

But my wife had other plans. Had to go to Home Depot, she said. Had to order new front doors. Had to, just had to do it tonight lest some dignitary show up in a couple of weeks and see our home the way it has appeared since we moved into it six years ago. Had to.

And so we did. Upon our return a couple of hours later, I tucked kids into bed and sat down to read scriptures with my son Luke. It’s a nightly ritual which we have maintained for around a year now. Generally I look forward to it. But tonight I was anxious. I had a letter to write.

While we were reading, Barnum, the psychodog, was jumping up and down against the door, his nightly signal that he would appreciate it if someone (me) would take him out for one last romp before putting him to bed. I was reminded that my daughter had not ever taken him for a walk today. So next thing I knew I was wandering the cul-de-sac while Barnum dashed about in search of rabbits. And mischief. And, as it turned out, an abandoned chunk of the neighbor’s garbage. Which he deposited in my garage.

It was about then that I remembered that my niece is arriving later this evening. To accommodate her, we had to turn the study into a “guest room.” Books were scattered everywhere and needed to be put away. The bed (a blow-up mattress—pretty classy, huh?) had to be set up. Had to pull out some towels and put the mints on the pillow (to maintain a high-end atmosphere to go with our new front doors).

It was about the time that I was wrestling around on the floor with the inflate-a-bed and a contour sheet that I remembered one of the passages Luke and I had read just a few minutes earlier:

Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. (Mark 10:43-44)

And right about then it occurred to me that the things that had filled my evening—small things, every one—were the kinds of things I should be doing. These little acts of unremarkable service should flow from me naturally, in part as a consequence of my basic Christianity. And of course, as the thought entered my mind, it also occurred to me that I done every bit of it (even reading the scriptures, I’m ashamed to say) with the wrong attitude. Which isn’t what Jesus had in mind at all.

Oops. Another blown opportunity to do the right things for the right reasons. I suppose that doing the right things still counts for something, but it’s clear that I still have a long way to go. I really wanted to tell you about the High Sierras, but I figured that tonight this story was more important.

PW

What About Jesus?

Dear Will:

Last Sunday was Fathers’ Day. My kids made me this breakfast that was like a cross between scrambled eggs and French toast—a concoction called “Egg-ceptional Breakfast Bake” that Bryn, my nine-year-old, found in a cookbook entitled New Junior Cookbook. I also got treated to a talent show that included a piano improvisation by Seth (who’s five) and a dance concert involving all three kids, only one of whom is a dancer. And it showed.

It was all good fun. Coming into the day, I told my kids that all I really wanted was some one-on-one time with each of them to talk to them about their faith. Specifically, I told them I wanted them to share with me what it is they believe in.

Seth went first. He said: “I believe in God. I believe that Dinosaurs once ruled the earth. And I believe that human beings lived during the Ice Age.”

OK. Then I asked him, “What about Jesus? What do you think about Jesus?”

“Good,” he said. And that was that.

Jesus himself once asked his disciples (essentially) the same question I had asked Seth. The ensuing exchange was telling, even though it contained no apparent references to T rex or any of his cronies:

When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.  And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.  (Matt. 16:13-17)

That was a telling moment for Simon Peter. It was, as far as we can tell, his first recorded, verbal affirmation of his faith in Christ. And Jesus tells us that that faith was born of personal revelation, sent by the Father through the Holy Spirit.

It kind of makes you want to stop and consider the question yourself, doesn’t it? What about Jesus? If your answer falls anywhere between Seth’s and Simon’s, it suggests that you yourself have at one point or another been blessed with a moment of spiritual insight that is a rare gift indeed. John the Revelator said, “The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy” (Rev. 19:10). You didn’t know you might be a prophet, did you?

I don’t know if I’ve ever shared with you before my own belief. Perhaps it has been implied in previous letters. But let me make it explicit here: I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the only begotten son of God, my Savior and yours. His teachings guide my life, and his grace is sufficient, as the scripture says, to help me to receive eternal blessings in spite of my manifest shortcomings.

And I also believe that dinosaurs once ruled the earth.

PW