Mark His Footsteps


Dear Will:

Close your eyes for a moment and picture the central figure of Christmas: a newborn baby, bundled in a peasant’s rags, naked and hungry and vulnerable, totally incapable of taking care of himself. He is the fitting symbol of all that Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, stood for then and stands for to this day.

Jesus was and is the ultimate champion of the helpless and vulnerable. Implicit in His teachings was the promise that as we come to know and understand the needs and heartaches of others, we will come to know Him as well. So it was that He admonished us to take care of our brothers and sisters who suffer—to feed the hungry, to offer refreshment to the thirsty, to take in strangers, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and the imprisoned. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren,” He said, “ye have done it unto me” (Matthew 25:40).

Those teachings bring to mind a familiar carol of Christmas inspired by the legend of Václav I, Duke of Bohemia (known more commonly to us as “King Wenceslas”), who lived in the 10th century A.D. The song recounts the duke’s reaction to seeing a peasant gathering wood on a blustery, snow-filled night, the day after Christmas. Although the peasant lives several miles from the duke’s home, the monarch instructs his page to gather food and fuel for the man and his family. Wenceslas and the servant then set out through the bitter cold, laden with provisions to bring warmth, sustenance, and love to fellowcitizens facing hardship and deprivation.

Although the song itself makes no explicit mention of Christmas, it is very much a Christmas song—a fitting reminder of Jesus and the Gospel that He taught. May we follow the example of the good king even as we follow in the footsteps of the King of Kings, reaching out in love and kindness to all.

God bless you and your loved ones throughout this Christmas season and beyond.


I Assure You: They’re Not


Dear Will:

I recently spoke with a friend who has not attended church in quite some time. After she shared with me a tender story about what had brought her to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the first place, I felt compelled to ask: “Then why have you stopped coming?” She responded with a common, sad sentiment: “I don’t feel worthy.”

My heart sank. Worthy? As if any of us is ever truly worthy! Her words left me troubled, puzzling over our human propensity to shun God due to our nagging imperfections. And I’ve concluded that this tendency leads to several persistent and problematic misconceptions:

1. We act as if we could hide from Him –This notion has been around approximately forever. You’ll recall that after Adam and Eve partook of the forbidden fruit, they heard the voice of God and hid themselves for shame (see: Genesis 3). They seemed to think that they could hide transgression behind a bush. Likewise, sometimes our indiscretions make us too ashamed to pray or attend church when those are just the things we need in an hour of weakness. “Oh,” you say, “but how could I ever come before Him after what I’ve done?” To which I say: How can you not? He knows already anyway. And He wants to help.

2. We feel that we’re not good enough – I hear this one all the time. “All of those people at church are so much better than I am.” Without going into detail, let me put it this way: NO THEY’RE NOT! In truth, we all have our weaknesses and idiosyncrasies. It is those weaknesses that draw us together. You’ll recall that Jesus was once criticized for socializing with sinners, to which He responded: “They that be whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” (Matthew 9:12). His invitation was to all—especially to those who might feel unworthy. He said: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). You’ll note that He didn’t say: “Come unto me, all ye that already have your act together.” Paul reiterated that thought when he said: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That includes, by the way, whoever sits next to you in Sunday School.

3. We believe we can never be forgiven – The scriptures are full of examples of those who felt that forgiveness was no longer possible for them. Yet Jesus was (and is) consistent in His willingness to extend forgiveness to all. And let’s be clear especially about this: You can never be worthy of that forgiveness; you can never earn it. He gives it freely. In this regard, His grace is truly sufficient—no matter what you or I may have done to make ourselves unworthy. In truth, nothing can separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). Nothing. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland put it this way: “Surely the thing God enjoys most about being God is the thrill of being merciful, especially to those who don’t expect it and often feel they don’t deserve it. . . . [However] far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines” (“The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012.)

I hope by now you have recognized in all of this an implied invitation, which I will now make explicit: Come join us on Sunday at the Santiago Creek Ward. You’ll fit right in. I’ll be saving you a seat in Sunday School.


Lunching with Snaggly and His Wayward Cousin

Dear Will:

As I see it, my mother had better options. She could have passed along her cheerfully unselfish disposition, for example, or the perpetual sparkle in her eye. Or maybe she could have simply given me her ability to bake the best cinnamon rolls you’ve ever tasted. (Mmmm, cinnamon rolls.) These are traits I could use. But no. Instead she passed along the bald-guy gene that has distinguished (?) our family for generations. And then, as a signature design flourish, she threw in her snaggletooth for good measure.

For those of you who like to play hygienist in your off-hours, I refer specifically to my right central incisor, which, like the runt of the litter, finds itself behind my other teeth trying to push and shove its way into line. The problem is, there just isn’t room for li’l Snaggly, so mostly he just pushes and shoves, creating the kind of premolar disorder that has financed the boats of many an orthodontist and the college educations of his children. Jostled thus for decades, the adjacent lateral incisor now finds itself leaning out of formation as if looking up the road to see when the parade is going to arrive.

Oh, and the parade does come—at least three times a day typically. Oatmeal Squares and bananas. Potato chips and PBJs. Countless morsels of steak and green beans, with occasional chocolate chip cookies snuck in between. (Mmmm, chocolate chip cookies.) They all come parading past my tangled toothage to be processed for swallowing, much to the delight of cuspids and bicuspids alike.

Ah, but for li’l Snaggly and his increasingly wayward cousin. Say you’re sitting at In-N-Out, scrolling through email with your left hand while fisting down a burger with your right. You’re chewing happily because you were smart enough to ask Amanda to add grilled onions and pickle to your Double-Double. The molars are really going to town now while the fangs upfront are mostly just pumping up and down as if on the most disgusting merry-go-round ever. You’re in blissful reverie until you discover that Snaggly’s cousin has taken it upon himself to hook your lower lip and add it to your midday mélange.

Now no one would ever accuse me of being a vegetarian, but I’ve always felt that adding my own flesh to a meal is taking meat-eating to an inappropriate extreme. And having chomped down on myself, over and over, in the very same spot, for 30 or 40 years, I’m a bit of an expert on the subject. In fact, I’ve now built up so much scar tissue in that one area of my mouth that I’m pretty sure that when I walk I’m starting to list slightly to the right.

Which is not a declaration of my politics but an acknowledgment of the fact that who I am—in all my bald-headed, snaggletoothed glory—is at least in part a consequence of genetic inheritance. And while my future as a male supermodel may be somewhat in jeopardy, I look at my own children and conclude that my parents passed along plenty that was worth sharing. And that I married well. Especially the marriage part.

So here’s hoping that Luke and Bryn and Seth have inherited their mother’s thick, glorious mane and her impressively bright intellect; her effortless empathy and passion for justice; her internal drive and (of course) her impeccable teeth. Also, if one of them could please master the art of their grandmother’s cinnamon rolls—sooner rather than later—I would really appreciate it.