Now What Do I Do?

what-now1

Dear Will:

Well, this is weird. It’s Sunday morning and I have nothing to do.

Well, not exactly nothing. But for the past five years I have served as bishop of the Santiago Creek Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. My Sundays have been filled for me with a combination of council meetings, planning meetings, worship and instructional services, one-on-one counseling sessions, and in-home visits with various members of the congregation. I was sometimes the first one in the building and often the last one out. And it was not unusual to find myself back in the chapel for an evening fireside.

But last Sunday I became no-longer-the-bishop of the Santiago Creek Ward. That title and its corresponding responsibilities have been passed to Jared Treanor, one of our neighbors who you will find just-about-impossible-not-to-love. No question: Our ward has hit the jackpot with this one.

That’s how it goes in our church. With a lay clergy, we pass around these responsibilities as part of our commitment to collective worship. And so I find myself on a Sunday morning sitting on my couch and wondering: “What do I do now?” Which is why I’m writing to you.

As you might imagine, the list of people who have touched my heart and influenced my life during the past five years of service is certainly too long to fit onto a single page. I have watched as friends overwhelmed by life have turned in desperation and faith to the Only One who could lift them out of their impossible circumstances. I have seen the repentant reclaim blessings promised in covenants long ago abandoned. I have thrilled at the enthusiastic service of so many missionaries who have come to our little congregation from all over the world to lend a hand in the work. And I have been humbled by the countless hours of selfless service rendered by my fellow Christians as they have embraced the teachings of Jesus and tried to implement them in their imperfect ways. Words cannot begin to capture the sense of love and admiration that I have for all of them. Because of them, I am a changed man.

I think what has humbled me most during my service were the many times I found myself in the middle of someone else’s spiritual experience. Because of my calling, I was (through no personal merit) a convenient conduit for the Spirit of God, sometimes a courier but most often simply a witness that Heavenly Father had once again heard the prayers of one of His children and extended His loving hand.

So yes: I have been richly blessed. When I was first asked to serve as bishop, I told the members of our ward that I was hoping for two things: 1) I wanted the Santiago Creek Ward to be a sanctuary—a safe place for sinners, a holy place where we could gather, warts and all, to try to become more like Jesus; and 2) I wanted us in both attitude and action to answer Paul’s invitation to become “no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens” in Christ (Ephesians 2:19)—not divided but united by our differences. I have been delighted (but not surprised) by the sincere efforts of our ward family to live up to those lofty ideals.

But you know what? That’s what the Santiago Creek Ward is like, and I don’t expect it to change. With Bishop Treanor at the lead, I anticipate that the love within the Santiago Creek Ward will only continue to grow. The ward will be different but better, still a sanctuary for come-as-you-are Christians to gather and help each other through life.

You should come and see for yourself. We meet at noon each Sunday in the chapel at 9801 South Newport, just around the corner from Peters Canyon Regional Park. In fact, let’s sit together. You can help me figure out what to do next.

PW

This Stuff Sticks with You

IMG_3237

Dear Will:

About a week ago we returned from a two-week trip to South America. My wife, Dana, and I spent several days exploring Buenos Aires before flying to Posadas, in northern Argentina, where our son Seth was concluding his two-year missionary assignment for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It was, as you might imagine, an emotional reunion.

Over the next 10 days, we covered a lot of ground. We spent a couple of days at Iguazú Falls which . . . I can’t even . . . it’s just . . . I don’t know . . . there aren’t words. Google it and assume that you still have no idea how magnificent and stupefyingly spectacular it all is. My jaw dropped so hard and so often that I was afraid it would become unhinged and I would be forced to spend the rest of the trip storing my chin in my shirt pocket. It was like that.

From there we went to Peru for a pilgrimage to Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. So cool. The two-week adventure concluded in Lima with dinner at Central, one of the top ten restaurants on the planet (for good reason). I don’t expect to EVER have another meal like it, in part because I’ll still be paying this one off well into my 90s. But inasmuch as travel is about making forever-memories, Central was all that and then some.

So yeah, it was all pretty great. But for all of the exotic wonder of our various stops along the way, it was all shrug-worthy anti-climax compared to the first evening we spent together with Seth. Once we had loaded his few remaining possessions into the back of our rented Fiat (he had already given the good stuff away), he took us to a tiny neighborhood they call Kilómetro 18, about a 25-minute bus-ride outside of Eldorado where Seth concluded his missionary service.

The roads of 18 are all red clay, the homes simple and functional but not much more. Seth had already told us about how he loved the place, and it was easy to understand why. Everywhere we walked we heard people calling for “Elder Wockeen”; they chased him down in the streets, implored him to visit their homes. THEY LOVED HIM. And it was obvious that he loved them back. When we gathered that evening in the home of the Familia Baez for a simple asado, there must have been 20 or so members of their little community of faith there. Given their limited circumstances, the spread was impressively bounteous (I recommend the fried mandioca), a generous gift which humbled us to be sure.

That evening will stay with me a long time. In fact, I would trade the night at Central, with all of its culinary flair, for another seat at the table of the Familia Baez—no question. The experience at Central I paid for, but as I celebrated that asado with Juan Carlos and Natalia, with Rafa and Daiana and Charly and the others, I felt awash in the pure love of Christ. That sort of feast cannot be bought.

Asado 18

Seth’s shoes (or what’s left of them, anyway) are still stained red by the clay on the streets of 18, and I think that’s fitting. When Jesus sent His disciples out to share The Word with the world, He told them that if, for some reason, a town rejected them, they should shake off the dust from their feet as a testimony against those people (Matthew 10:14). What I saw in Seth, in contrast, was the opposite effect: that when kind and loving people embrace a servant of God and his message, you CAN’T shake them off. What happens there sticks to you, perhaps forever, the discoloration on your worn-out shoes a lovely reminder of where you’ve been, who you’ve met, and how it all changed you. Those shoes are a token of selfless service, a priceless treasure made holy by days spent walking on sacred ground.

PW

What I Wrote Then. How I’m Doing Now.

IMG_2788

Dear Will:

In less than a month my son Seth will finish his service as a full-time missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s been nearly two years since he began devoting all day, every day to the people of Argentina and Paraguay. An all-consuming focus on things of God is transformative—I can’t express to you how proud I am of his choice to tithe His life in this way.

All this has me reflecting on my own missionary service in Uruguay almost (can it be?) 40 years ago. When my two years came to an end, I set down “my resolutions, goals, and personal standards” in my journal. I thought I’d look back and see how I’m doing. Here’s what I wrote on August 1, 1981:

  1. Time Is Everything: Organize it. Use it all and use it well. Keep sleeping to a minimum. Set and maintain time priorities. “You cannot kill time without injuring eternity.” How you use your time is the key to success. (I’m about half as productive as my wife, so I’d give myself a 5 or 6 here.)
  2. Set Weekly Goals: And meet them. You must keep progressing. If you don’t lose sight of where you want to go you’ll eventually get there. Each week you should progress spiritually, physically, intellectually, and socially (Luke 2:52). Remember, your goal is perfection. Magnify yourself. (Yeah, I stopped doing this a long time ago. You can probably tell.)
  3. Keep Yourself Spiritually in Tune: Read the scriptures daily. Pray always. Stay active in church. Remember your covenants. Attend the temple regularly. (I think I’m a solid 9 here. Or maybe 8.)
  4. Serve: Love is the key. Touch lives. Make people feel special and know that they are. (I try. Usually.)
  5. Magnify All of Your Callings: Magnify means make it bigger. Always go the extra mile. Do more than is asked or expected. Remember #4. (For the most part, I do my best.)
  6. Do the Missionary Work: Look for opportunities. Make opportunities. Be bold but not overbearing (Alma 38:12). Practice what you’ve been preaching to the members for two years. (Not so good. Maybe a 2 or 3 on this one. Elder Peter Watkins would be very disappointed. So would Seth.)
  7. Don’t Lose Your Spanish: You should not misuse a gift from God. Practice it. Read it. Bless other people by your ability. (Except for reading Spanish, I do look for opportunities to hablar. We’re going to Argentina to pick up Seth in a couple of weeks. I’ll let you know how I do. Vamos a ver.)
  8. Do What the Prophet Says: And do it now. God knows what’s best for you. Don’t make exceptions. All of the commandments are for you. (Ugh. I make exceptions for myself all the time. I’d have to give myself a 6 or 7 on this one.)
  9. You Are the Light of the World: You’re different. You should be. Others should recognize it, and recognize it as something positive. Remember who you are and why you are that way. (I have no idea on this one. You tell me.)
  10. Fellowship: If somebody is new, welcome them, befriend them, and make them feel at home. If somebody is missing, notice, and let them know that you’ve noticed. Give people a reason to want to go to church and stay there. (Trying. Always. Even in this very letter.)

Well, that review was painful. And in about a month I’ll be living with a guy filled with the same fire and lofty ideals. I’m really going to have to step up my game. . . . Isn’t it great?

PW