This Is Who They Are

Volunteers Park Here

Dear Will:

Let me tell you about the people I go to church with. This story is typical:

Several years ago I was vacationing with Dana on the California coast when I received a desperate email from a friend who lives in Silverado Canyon. Wildfires had been followed by rains which inevitably led to flooding and mudslides. Many homes had filled with muck, and people were desperate. She said: “I know the Mormons sometimes help out in situations like this. Do you think anyone from your church would be willing to help us?”

There I was, hundreds of miles away and in no position to lend a hand. What was I to do? Well, I made just one phone call . . . and dozens showed up to help. Most of those volunteers didn’t know me, and I’m pretty sure that none of them knew her. And yet they turned out in force—with gloves and shovels and the pure love of Christ.

This is who they are. This is what they do.

They are quick to welcome a stranger, eager to expand their circles, kind and loving and generous, willing to set aside their own needs to respond to someone else’s. They show up and stay late and do the dirty work. They take the late-night phone calls. When others are suffering, they mourn with them, comfort them, and take on as much of their burden as their willing shoulders can bare (Mosiah 18:8-9). They run and run and run and run to raise money for their friends and their life-affirming causes. They volunteer at the schools and coach the teams. They love and teach and nurture our children. They bake the brownies—so many brownies! They visit the sick and the elderly week after week after week. I have seen that their loaves and fishes are always available to share. They are among the very best people I know.

This is what happens when anyone tries to become like Jesus—when ordinary people choose to make the teachings of Christ the by-laws by which they govern their daily activities. These are the fruits that grow from the gospel tree.

I think of the time when Bryn was about to move to New Zealand. We spoke to the Broederlows, whom we hardly knew, who in turn called their friends the Brunts, whom we knew not at all, and in about the amount of time that it has taken me to type this sentence the Brunts decided to pick her up at the Wellington airport and put her up in their home. Within days of her arrival, Peter and Leoni Brunt were begging Bryn to stay with them indefinitely—rent-free.

Who does that?

Ordinary followers of the Master do this sort of thing every day. As Christians we are not asked to be extraordinary people. We are simply asked to live each day as if we truly believe and embrace the gospel we preach on Sundays. To be not just hearers of the word, but doers also (James 1:22). To be like Nephi, who when asked to do a hard thing said: “I will go” (1 Nephi 3:7). To be like Isaiah, who echoed the words of the Savior when he said: “Here am I; send me” (Isaiah 6:8). To make a difference in whatever small way we can.

Of course they have their issues. But in spite of those issues, they seek day after day to be the answer to someone else’s prayers. They continue to light the world in small and simple ways. Like Peter and John, they may not have much, but they give “such as they have” (Acts 3:6). As I see them share the love of Christ with others, they cause me to feel His love as well. They consistently let their light shine in such a way that my world—our world—is brighter because they are in it.

PW

No Wonder I’m So Cranky

Traffic Jam

Dear Will:

Forgive me if I sound a little cranky. I AM cranky.

I work in Playa Vista, a newish, high-end enclave on the west side of Los Angeles. Look it up. All kinds of ad agencies, tech giants, and other trend-setting companies have set up shop there, leading some to refer to it as Silicon Beach. Sounds pretty cool, right? And it would be . . . if not for the fact that Playa Vista sits 47 horrifying miles from my home in Orange County.

What that means from a practical standpoint is that unless you come and go in the middle of the night, when you live in Orange and work in Playa Vista you can pretty much count on a miserable commute. I wish I were exaggerating when I tell you that the final 15 miles of my drive can take 60 minutes or more. I’m not. Surely, you say to yourself, it would be faster to take another route; but trust me when I say this: I’ve taken them all, and none of them work. Ever. It’s simple math: Too many vehicles + not enough road = 405.

Allow me to illustrate: Put all 53 members of the Los Angeles Rams in a standard-issue hot tub. With their pads on. Now swim across. For two hours. That’s what my commute is like.

My original solution to all of this was to purchase a used Honda Civic that runs on compressed natural gas. I knew a CNG Civic would be an inconvenience, but its ultra-low emissions would qualify me to drive in the carpool lane, shaving valuable time and more-valuable aggravation in the process. With white HOV stickers slapped on the Civic’s haunches, I could (sort of) forget about my drive, and just settle into a good podcast. (Or three.)

But on January 1, 2019, the California Legislature canceled the magical decals that gave me and 200,000 other low-emission drivers carpool-lane privileges. And so for two months now I’ve been diverted into the scrum with the rest of you. I have been defrocked, demoted, cast out of the court and tossed into the courtyard. It has been awful—awfuller even—now that 200,000 carpool-lane refugees have made traffic in all of the other lanes worse than ever. One morning it took me two-and-a-half hours to reach the office. That’s 150 butt-numbing, soul-sapping minutes. One way.

So yes, I’m cranky. I now sit to the right of the express lane, watching longingly as car after car cruises past in the left-hand lane, new stickers gleaming. Except for that one car there. The one with all of the people in it. What is that? An actual carpool? Who do those people think they are?

Imagine that. A high-occupancy vehicle in the High Occupancy Vehicle lane. I’m reminded that the point of an HOV lane is to have fewer cars on the road, not to provide first-class passage to anti-social elitists like me. Somehow we have allowed a lane designed to create community to be a reward for those aspiring to increased isolation. How did that happen?

And so I sit here, feeling put upon while knowing that, except for maybe 199,999 other similarly put-upon Californians, no one is going to feel sorry for me. Fair enough. Because even as I make that observation, I must also confess—a bit sheepishly—that I have never seriously considered earning access to the HOV lane by adding a little HO to my V. Here I am, a guy who goes to church on Sundays and talks about gathering together, bearing one another’s burdens, being of one heart and one mind. Community. Family. You and us—not me. And yet I have chosen to spend three or four hours each day in my own little isolation pod, cut off from everyone around me. Flying solo . . . or crawling, I guess.

Hmmm. No wonder I’m so cranky.

PW

The First Step Is Always the Hardest

runner at night

Dear Will:

I used to be a runner. Seriously.

OK, so not all that seriously. I was more of a shuffler, to be honest. But I did go out a few nights a week and plod three or four miles around the neighborhood. Hardcore runners would never have admitted me into their club, but I did get to the point where I kind of enjoyed it. I felt better about myself for doing it, that’s for sure.

But you know how it goes. You change jobs or your kids’ lives turn complicated or whatever and next thing you know you’re back on the couch every night with a remote control in your hand. Honestly, I don’t remember why I stopped my evening jogs, but here we are, several years and 10 or 12 pounds later and I have lost the gumption.

The gumption, but not the desire. I remember both the physical and psychic benefits of the discipline, and I do miss it. I often feel like I ought to start up again. But how?

I read somewhere recently that “the first step is always the hardest.” I think that’s because of everything that leads up to that first step: overcoming the dread, clearing the time on my schedule, strapping on my shoes, making the visible declaration that “I’m going for a run” while realizing that for that to be meaningful there had better be other runs to follow. That’s what the first step looks like. After that, it’s just huffing and puffing, one foot after another. Those second, third, fourth steps—they’re way easier than the first one.

I’ve found that it’s not uncommon for people to feel this same sort of inner conflict when it comes to spiritual exercise. Maybe there was a time when you were regularly engaged in some sort of religious practice. Maybe it came easy to you, or not, but you regularly cultivated your personal spiritual development. And it felt good.

But you know how it goes. You move or someone mistreats you or your real-world obligations and interests demand more and more of your time. Or maybe your intellect simply overpowers belief and you tire of the inner turmoil. Whatever the reason, next thing you know you’ve put away your Bible, stopped attending services, and hardly think to pray anymore. Maybe you don’t even fully remember why, but now here you are, however-many years later, and “church” is simply no longer your thing.

Do you remember how it felt though? How it felt to surround yourself with like-minded people who were also striving to follow the teachings of Jesus, to do better, to be better? Do you remember those moments when you felt the reality of God’s love for you or the warmth of the Holy Spirit? How you sang “I Am a Child of God,” and the words rose up from your innermost being? Perhaps you would like to feel that way again.

Perhaps—if not for that ominous, overwhelming, almost-unthinkable first step—emotionally daunting just to think about. If only there were some way to find the gumption, the courage, the inner strength to begin. . . .

Of course, there is. Isaiah reminds us that we do not embark on such journeys alone: “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint” (Isaiah 40:31). It all begins with a single step—a step I would be delighted to take with you. God knows I could use the exercise.

PW

 

Photo: Night Runner by Jeremy Brooks