To Try Again, and Then Again

Dear Will:

I am in such bad shape. I haven’t had any sort of formal exercise program for years because (I told myself) my obligations as an early morning Seminary teacher made it impossible for me to work in a workout. So I’d hike the hills from time to time, but other than that I did little else but sit at my desk each day watching my waistline get doughier and doughier. My wife even took to calling me Jabba. (Not true, but I kept expecting it.)

Well, the Seminary excuse is dead, so I’ve little choice but to start exercising. I won’t bore you with my unimpressive plans, but I will say this much: One thing I did was download an app that creates randomized exercise routines that take little time, space, or equipment. (You gotta start somewhere, right?) So yesterday, with a bit of trepidation, I fired up my iPad and gave it a go.

It was everything I expected it to be. Which is to say, it was dreadful. I had neither strength nor stamina nor the internal fortitude to push through the lack of strength and stamina. My body was so traumatized by actual activity (Hey! What’s this all about?) that it took me as long to recover as it did to perform the rudimentary calisthenics. It was awkward. Painful. Embarrassing.

But you know what? Later that day it was kind of nice to feel the sort of residual stiffness that comes from exercise. And today? I’m sore all over, but it’s a good sore. An encouraging sore. Motivating even. I’m feeling eager to get back at it and reclaim a little dignity along with a couple of pairs of pants I no longer take off of the hanger.

As with any previously inactive dude who makes a few feeble attempts at working out, the test will be whether next year or next month or next week I’m still at it. It does get easier, right? And it does, eventually, bear fruit. That’s what we know from experience—and what we promise ourselves when we first set out. Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said: “That which we persist in doing becomes easier to do; not that the nature of the thing has changed but that our power to do has increased.”

Don’t get me wrong. I have no delusions of appearing on the cover of Men’s Health. But becoming a few pounds lighter would be a good thing. And having the sense of  vigor that comes from regular exercise would be even better.

So what does any of this have to do with you? This: If you ever ponder coming back to the church you once loved, it may be awkward at first—uncomfortable even. That part is perhaps unavoidable. But if you’ll stick with it, I promise that we’ll minimize that discomfort for you. And at the end of that first Sabbath morning when you find yourself at home considering what just happened, I’m confident that you’ll feel encouraged—motivated even—to try again, and then again, persisting until your power (and inclination) to do has increased.

Ultimately, the benefit of reigniting faith far outweighs the trepidation you may feel about starting again. President David O. McKay once said: “Spirituality is the consciousness of victory over self, and of communion with the Infinite. Spirituality impels one to conquer difficulties and acquire more and more strength. To feel one’s faculties unfolding and truth expanding the soul is one of life’s sublimest experiences.”

Will it be easy? Maybe not. Will it be worth it? Absolutely. So come and join us. You’ll be glad you did. And so will we.

PW

As If It Were August

Dear Will:

I grew up in Redlands, California, in the sort of neighborhood you might not see these days anywhere outside of Leave It To Beaver. There were kids of every age up and down the street and around the corner. We spent our summers untethered, roaming the streets and yards and vacant lots with the freedom to go wherever our curiosity and imaginations might carry us.

A typical day in August started with obligatory chores, completed with a greater focus on speed than quality. Once released from our indentured servitude, we would head out to pick up wherever it was we left off the day before. We moved seamlessly from kick-the-can to Marco Polo to a game we called (quite accurately) Anythingball. We generally grabbed lunch at whichever house we found ourselves and then dashed off to The Big Tree or one of several secret forts where we would dream up mischief and new adventures.

In the midst of all of that fun, we fought—for sure—and argued every day, perhaps about the rules of this game or a bad call in that game. We would go from best friends to enemies to best friends again all over the course of a single afternoon. We played so hard that the smog would irritate our lungs and make it hard to breathe, but we were undaunted. It was summer, after all, and if we had hung around the house you can be sure that some grown-up would have found something “productive” for us to do.

We preferred to fill the time ourselves. We might grab a bat and a tennis ball and head for the nearby golf course to play work-ups in the fairway until the course marshal chased us off or until the daylight grew so dim we could no longer see the ball. Then perhaps we’d take up an all-neighborhood game of sardines that might have a dozen kids or more dangling from the branches of a single, teetering pine tree in somebody else’s yard. We invariably ended the day exhausted, with grass stains and scrapes, smelling like kids do when the fun has ended but the grins still remain.

Some days the fun ended earlier than others, but every day, from early morning till late afternoon or evening, my siblings and I played until our mother whistled us home. My mom had a shrill, powerful whistle that could be heard no matter where we were at any given moment. It was the two-finger dinner bell, the ultimate tweet, an ingeniously simple way for her to get all seven of us puppies back into the box.

In some respects, you and I and everyone are all still kids, doing the chores we have to but looking for energy and wonder to fill our days. There are, sometimes, injuries and hard feelings along the way, and occasionally we’ll be forced to make a midday run to the ER, but mostly what we’re hoping for is friendship and laughter. Joy. For all of the challenges and frustrations, the sadness and the heartache that may accompany our mortal existence, scripture tells us that joy is our ultimate purpose (2 Nephi 2:25)—it’s why we’re here. Sooner perhaps than most of us will like, the time will come when we’ll hear a distant whistle calling us home, but even then we’ll find family waiting for us there: Father and Mother and siblings. Joy beyond measure.

In the meantime, we should live each day as if it were August. Which, by the way, it is.

PW

All the Sense in the World

Dear Will:

This morning I was at work, about to go into our regular Monday morning planning meeting, when an unfamiliar number flashed on my cellphone. On the other end of the line was a woman from Bakersfield, calling on behalf of a friend. She explained that the friend’s four-year-old was in the intensive care unit at CHOC, with fluid in his tiny lungs and an irregular heartbeat. Was there someone, she wondered, who might be willing to go to the hospital and give the child a blessing? I knew there was and did my best to reassure her that we would have someone at the ICU shortly.

Immediately I called the hospital to speak with the mother of the boy. Too shaken to talk, she handed the phone to a daughter who gave me the full background on the situation: The boy was in town visiting Knott’s Berry Farm with another family. He had no history of health problems. He had collapsed and had to be revived. The hospital now had him sedated and on a ventilator while they worked to drain his lungs. Terrifying.

As you would imagine, the anxiety, fear, and emotion were palpable as she described the shocking phone call that summoned the family from the Central Valley just hours before. As a parent, it was not hard for me to feel some of that same anxiety myself as we talked. I’ve had some experience in the past with families fighting for the life of a child hundreds of miles from home. My heart ached.

As I considered their plight, my mind flashed to the life of Christ. I thought of the young man, sick since childhood, who gnashed and foamed and thrashed about uncontrollably. Beyond hope, his father finally came to Jesus. “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us,” the father said. The Lord responded, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

Those terms were almost more than the desperate father could bear. Through tears he offered what little faith he could muster: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:22-24). Of course, that meager faith was plenty for the One whose grace is sufficient to heal all that befalls us. The tormented young man was cured on the spot.

And what of Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue, whose only daughter lay dying? He fell at the Master’s feet and “besought him greatly” on behalf of the girl. His circumstances were perhaps even more grave than those of the father of the demoniac, for Jairus’ daughter died before Jesus could arrive at her bedside. Nevertheless, once inside the home, the Savior took the girl by the hand and restored her to life (Mark 5:21-43).

The mother of the boy at CHOC no doubt felt the selfsame longing for divine assistance.  And thus she turned to those authorized to act on behalf of the Master Healer. Within a couple of hours, Bro. Miller and Bro. Fisher, two high priests from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were at her side. Invoking their Holy Priesthood, they placed hands on the head of the ailing boy, and with simple words pronounced a blessing in the name of Christ.

Several hours later, I called the boy’s sister to check on his condition. Her tone was completely different. Her brother had improved so markedly that they had removed the ventilator, withdrawn the sedatives. The boy was alert in bed, improved so vastly and so quickly that several doctors had gathered in his room to consider his remarkable case. His recovery was unprecedented. It seemed miraculous.

And yet it makes all the sense in the world.

PW