Let’s Do It Again Next Year

Dear Will:

A long time ago I promised my son Luke that when he turned 12 I would take him to Salt Lake City to attend General Conference in person. Not exactly the bar mitzvah he was maybe hoping for, but to my delight, he called my bluff. So a few weeks back he and I piled into the ol’ Camry and headed north.

Maybe it’s a guy thing, but there was something liberating about heading off, just the two of us, knowing we didn’t really have to answer to anyone for about 72 hours. If we wanted to drive too fast or make a pit stop or skip lunch so that we could gorge ourselves on a big steak dinner (and let’s be clear: we wanted to) we could do it (and did). As we drove, it was just me and my son—the two dudes—telling stories, playing games, or just sitting in silence. We weren’t exactly Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, but it was fun.

It took us 10 hours to reach our destination—11 if you count the grubfest at Outback. The next morning we took our seats in the nosebleed section of the new Conference Center just off of Temple Square. It was a magnificent facility and we were delighted to be a part of the scene. But the excitement of that morning didn’t prepare us for the thrill of that evening, when we found ourselves—I’m not making this up—on the fourth row of that 20,000+ seat auditorium, directly in front of the prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley.

It was very cool. Directly before us sat the President of the Church, his two Counselors, and several of the Twelve Apostles. People speak of “sitting at the feet of the Prophet,” and there we were, living the metaphor. Unforgettable.

The real test came the next day, however, when we piled back into the Camry for the return trip. Maybe we talked less—I’m not sure—but certainly we felt a bit less giddy. Still I felt an easiness as we traveled together that I often don’t feel when we’re living together. As a dad, it felt good and right. Nonetheless, as we headed down Cajon Pass, back into the L.A. Basin, chasing the weekend warriors and desert rats toward home, I nervously asked the Big Question: “Well Luke, was it worth it? Now that you know what’s involved, would you do it over again if you had the choice?” He didn’t even hesitate. “Absolutely. Let’s do it again next year.”

That ain’t gonna happen, unfortunately, but it was a good reminder—I hope to both of us—that it never hurts to step out of the usual routine and spend some time together—just because. Would that I could find a way to pull that off without having to drive 1400 miles in the process.

I’m reminded of a children’s book in our study called The Treasure by Uri Shulevitz. It tells the story of a poor man named Isaac who has a recurring dream in which a voice tells him to go to the capital city and look for treasure under the bridge by the Royal Palace. Finally, he takes the long, arduous journey through forests and over mountains, walking most of the way until he arrives in the capital city. To his disappointment, he finds that the bridge is guarded day and night. When at last he tells the captain of the guard of his dream, the captain laughs at him. “If I believed a dream I once had,” the soldier tells him, “I would travel to your town and look for a treasure under the stove in the house of a man named Isaac.” Bowing respectfully, Isaac embarks immediately on the long walk back, journeying over mountains and through forests until he comes to his humble home—wherein he finds the treasure he sought. The moral: Sometimes we must travel far to discover what is near.

I hope that this hits “close to home” for you as it did for me.


Utterly Unthinkable

Dear Will:

I suspect that you have read with me the recent news of atrocities perpetrated by religious men against innocent children. My heart breaks as I consider the irreparable harm done by these evil men. I am saddened that those in a position to protect the children did little or nothing, sometimes even knowingly placing new, unsuspecting victims in harm’s way.

It is troubling indeed that for some there apparently remains some ambiguity on how to deal with those who harm God’s children—troubling in particular because I see no such ambiguity either in holy writ or in the instructions of our own religious leaders. I share with you, for example, the words of Elder Boyd K. Packer, President of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, spoken last month in the Semi-Annual General Conference of our church:

There is nothing in the scriptures, there is nothing in what we publish, there is nothing in what we believe or teach that gives license to parents or anyone else to neglect or abuse or molest our own or anyone else’s children.

There is in the scriptures, there is in what we publish, there is in what we believe, there is in what we teach, counsel, commandments, even warnings that we are to protect, to love, to care for, and to “teach [children] to walk in the ways of truth” (Mosiah 4:15). To betray them is utterly unthinkable.

Among the strongest warnings and the severest penalties in the revelations are those relating to little children. Jesus said, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:6).

(By the way, if you are interested in reading or viewing Elder Packer’s entire address, you can find it here.)

I apologize for hitting you with such an awful subject in this month’s letter. But I felt inclined to reaffirm what the Gospel teaches us about our obligation to care for and nurture little children. It is a responsibility I feel most keenly since I have three such little ones in my care—and I feel so inadequate most of the time. My faith is that God will help me succeed—perhaps, at times, in spite of myself—provided I am making a genuine effort to get it right.

I pray that you may remain insulated from the evil that has touched the lives of so many innocent people, and that your children, and their children, may likewise be blessed and protected.