Avie Was Here

Dear Will:

Maybe you read recently about the vandals who scratched their names into a boulder in Big Bend National Park, defacing in the process an ancient petroglyph that had survived there for over 5,000 years. Apparently such is the irresistible urge of some to let passing strangers know “I was here”— even if their destructive doodles unquestionably leave the world worse for the rest of us.

Contrast this act with those of another hiker I sometimes see on the hills near my home. When he treks along those local trails, he carries two things: a long-armed grabber and a bag that he uses to gather and remove trash left behind by indolent neighbors. It seems like the sort of thing one might do as part of a group service project, right? But this guy comes alone, week after week, quietly doing what he can to make the world a little better.

Which kind of mark would you rather leave for those who come after you?

Every day we encounter untold opportunities to make the straightforward choice between making things a little worse or a little better for everyone else. For instance, do you leave your grocery cart in among the cars or walk the 20 feet necessary to put it away with the others? Do you speed up to close the gap in stop-and-go traffic or make room for that guy who is trying to move into your lane? Do you spend your time on social media arguing your point or spreading good cheer? None of these choices may be particularly consequential in the grand scheme of things, but the accumulation of such choices by millions of people stretched across the weeks and years does have an impact—for better or worse—on the world in which we live.

These are the small and simple things by which great things are brought to pass. Or not.

You’ll find examples all around you. Not five minutes ago—as I was writing that previous sentence—my doorbell rang. There stood a dear friend bearing gifts: a dozen beautiful eggs from her backyard chicken coop and a bouquet of flowers for my wife Dana. Why? Just because, as it turns out. Consider how that small and simple act of kindness and generosity sent a burst of light into our home. It was both unexpected and delightful. This is not the first time that friend has appeared on our doorstep with an armful of love. This is, in fact, who she is.

I recently attended the funeral for another woman who had mastered this great art. Everywhere she went, Avie spread love and goodness. Invariably, those she encountered came away feeling better about themselves, as if each one were just about the most important person in her life. She taught her children to love others in this same way. Personally, I found that being around her always—always—made me want to be a better version of myself. One man who visited her during her final days described how, even in that fading state, she found a way to make him feel wonderful. He said that when he left her room he felt a powerful urge to go back and sit quietly in the corner—just to be in her presence and bask in the grace she still radiated.

Imagine being such a woman. Imagine a world filled with millions of people just like her. It’s a lofty, perhaps impossible standard. But I can’t help but consider how much better and brighter my tiny little part of the world would be if I could follow her inspiring example, choosing from moment to moment to find a way to make things just a little bit better for someone else.

That sort of beneficence doesn’t come naturally to me. I have to think about it, work at it, pray for it. But I do find that as I think and work and pray for the kind of effortless goodness she embodied as a sincere disciple of Jesus Christ, I can see myself becoming a little bit better, one small and simple thing at a time. And you know what? I can’t think of a better way to let passing strangers know “I was here.”

PW

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