It’s Time to Start Something

Dear Will:

Well, we’ve done it. Or should I say, we haven’t.

For the last 20 years or so, we have sent out Christmas cards to friends and relations around the globe. In most years, that card has included a letter of sorts, one into which we have invested a considerable amount of time and effort in order to make it witty and worth reading—even if you don’t find our children as interesting as we do. In some years, I have had to submit multiple drafts to get it past my wife (Editor in Chief) because the initial versions were either too boring or too inane or too vacuous or maybe all three. It was sometimes arduous, but we did succeed to some extent in making our letters entertaining enough that some friends encouraged us to keep ‘em coming.

It was a lot easier in the early years, when our children were cute and spontaneously funny in the way that innocents tend to be. But as they have gotten older and we have used up a variety of editorial tricks and angles, making our annual letter even somewhat engaging has become a difficult chore. You yourself may recall a time or two when our effort has fallen well short of the mark. For these and a variety of other reasons we decided that enough has finally become enough. Thus this year there was no card and no annual letter from the Watkins.

When Dana and I finally gave ourselves permission not to send out Christmas wishes, it should have produced in me a great sense of relief. (Confession: My first and only draft of Christmas Letter 2011 was rejected out of hand by the Editor in Chief.) But rather than feeling like I had been let off the hook, instead I have felt great pangs of regret and even guilt for breaking the streak.

The truth is, it’s hard to start something worthwhile, harder still to keep it up over a prolonged period of time. We’ve all embarked on one-day diets or thrown ourselves full force into what proved to be a two-week workout regimen. My wife is one who works out six days a week (every day but Sunday), even when—or I should say, especially when—she doesn’t feel like it. If she’s sick or sore or injured, she refuses to give into the discomfort. “I’m afraid that once I let myself off the hook it will be too easy to stop altogether,” she explains. “And I can’t afford that.”

Several years ago, my son Luke went his entire freshman and sophomore years without missing a day of Early Morning Seminary. He hadn’t set out to have a perfect record, but once he was two years in it became a matter of pride to him. No matter how tired he was or how good an excuse he might have had, by his junior year he refused to miss. Every day, no matter what, he arose before 6 a.m. and made his way down to the church. It was impressive.

Then one day in his junior year it happened: He somehow slept through his alarm and accidentally missed Seminary. He was very upset that his perfect string had been broken. But once it had been broken it became very easy for him to miss again. He still attended, but once he got out of the pattern it didn’t matter as much to him to keep up the consistency.

So it is with many worthwhile endeavors: eating right, visiting the elderly, attending Sunday services, working out. Starting is easy. Stopping is easier. It’s only through consistent follow-through that we can turn good intentions into quantifiable results.

You know why I bring all of this up, don’t you? As we embark on a new year, we’re pondering resolutions and commitments and (if you’re like me) contemplating what we can do to make this year better than last year. The next few days will be filled with good intentions. The question is this: A year from now, which of those good intentions will have transformed us and which will be mere memories? It’s time to start something. And when you do, don’t stop.


Christmas Transformation

Dear Will:

On Saturday I found myself staring up at the rafters in the garage, anticipating with dread the prospect of hauling down all of the Christmas decorations to begin the annual transformation of our home for the holidays.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Christmas, and I love how our home feels when all of the decorations are in place. But the labor required to get our home into that state is significant: We have to rearrange furniture. We have to find temporary homes for all of the stuff that will be displaced by the things up in the rafters. And worst of all: I have to put up the lights.

Oh, the lights. That part I genuinely despise. I generally put them up wrong the first time, invariably banging my bald head on the eaves a few times during the ordeal. And when at last they’re all in place, I plug them in to discover a short or a failed bulb that renders a whole section inoperable. Others aspire to riches so that they can drive a fancy car. For me, it’s so I can pay someone else to put up the Christmas lights. (Alas, I am not rich.)

After spending a weekend sorting and stashing and propping and plumping, after hooking and hanging and no doubt festooning, I finally get to step back with my wife and kids and admire the work. We’ll put on some favorite Christmas music (my first choice is usually Amy Grant), light the candles in the family room, and sit back to watch things sparkle. And when we do that, my heart finally softens and fills with the spirit of the season. Works like a charm. I just have to get there first.

So Saturday’s the day we’ll begin. No doubt the decorating will extend into our Sunday afternoon, but by this time next week we’ll be enjoying the fruits of our labors. And it will all, once again, be worth it. But between now and then I will anticipate the beginning of the process with enough grinchiness that it will confirm that Christmas cannot come too soon.

If you’re anything like me—and I pray that you aren’t—you may need a little extra push to get into the Christmas spirit. But whether or not you’re like me, may I recommend the annual Community Christmas Celebration as an excellent way to get in the mood and ring in the season. As I may have told you before, the event is a combination of nativity displays and holiday music. We’ve been going nearly every year for over a decade. We love it, as I think you will too.

I hope to see you there. I’ll be the guy with the fresh gash on his forehead and a slowly melting heart.


Seek Ye First

Dear Will:

I have a friend whom I admire deeply. He is not a man of great social station or professional credentials, nor is he a man of letters or great wealth. As a matter of fact, as so many others around us, he is currently in the midst of great financial upheaval. At a time in which he should be contemplating retirement, he is contemplating bankruptcy instead.

And yet. . . .

I admire him because of his humble faith. He is not the sort who thinks he has all of the answers. To the contrary: He often asks the sort of candid questions that reveal his own insecurities and ignorance, questions which may make others squirm a little due to their honesty. He also has a genuine desire to serve others in spite of whatever personal inconvenience it might entail—not to be seen of others or because “it’s the right thing to do,” but simply because he genuinely wants to help. I’ve known him and watched him for over a decade, and during that time no one has inspired me more to be a better, more genuine person.

Two or three weeks ago, my friend stood in a church meeting to share a profound statement that has caused me much reflection since. I am well familiar with his current financial woes—woes which were brought on, he admits, by some foolish choices that he made in spite of clear counsel to the contrary—so I was not prepared for what he said: In spite of their misfortunes, he said, “my relationship with my dear wife is better than it has ever been.” The reason? Because they are embracing the gospel.

How many marriages have been ruined by financial troubles? How many relationships are unable to withstand the pressures that come from modern living? And yet this couple have found happiness in the midst of difficulties, closeness in spite of heartache, renewed faith even as they are losing so much of what the world would consider important.

My friend and his wife are a living manifestation of a familiar verse of scripture. It was King Benjamin who said to his people: “I would desire that ye should consider on the blessed and happy state of those that keep the commandments of God.  For behold, they are blessed in all things, both temporal and spiritual; and if they hold out faithful to the end they are received into heaven, that thereby they may dwell with God in a state of never-ending happiness.  O remember, remember that these things are true; for the Lord God hath spoken it” (Mosiah 2:41).

Of course, my friend does not yet enjoy the temporal blessings King Benjamin alludes to. Or does he? The calm with which he faces his financial difficulties is astounding—another reminder to me that there is much more to life than money or status. I don’t really know the full extent of the challenges which lie before him, but I can tell you this: He and his wife are going to be fine. I have no doubt in my mind.

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God” is what Jesus said, “and all of these [other] things will be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). It’s important advice to all of us as we face the economic challenges associated with a prolonged recession. And the promised blessings that come from following that advice are of greater worth than anything you or I can imagine.

Would that we each might embrace the gospel and enjoy the happiness which follows.