The Great Thing About Brittany

Dear Will:

I have a niece who is stunningly beautiful—double-take gorgeous—the sort of blond-haired, blue-eyed  twenty-something girl who gets noticed by simply entering a room. I’ve known her all her life, and even so, when I see her at family gatherings I can’t help remarking on it. I’ll say to her mom (my sister-in-law Kelly): “Brittany is so pretty!”

Invariably, Kelly responds with something like this: “The great thing about Brittany is that she has such a good heart.”

And it’s true. Throughout here teens, Brittany was active in her youth group at church, always striving to do the right thing. She has always been a dedicated Christian and has even expressed some interest in working in a youth ministry for a career. She is consistently kind and thoughtful, quick with a smile and unwaveringly tolerant of her boorish relatives. In short, she has turned out to be the kind of person any parent would wish for at the time of a child’s birth.

What Kelly is trying to teach me, without being even somewhat heavy-handed about it, is that Brittany’s true beauty lies within. What makes her special is not the blue eyes, but rather the kind heart. I was reminded of that principle earlier this week by, of all people, a talk-radio host. He said that in our frenzy to add to our children’s academic credentials and to feed their extracurricular interests, we should also devote a concerted effort to teaching them integrity, honesty, virtue, and kindness. His point was a good one: In the end, it will matter much more to me what kind of people my children become than what their professional credentials or social status might be.

Do you remember the Old Testament story of the anointing of David? It taught the same principle. The Lord sent the prophet Samuel to visit Jesse, with the specific purpose of anointing a new king in Israel. The plan was for Samuel to offer a burnt offering with Jesse and his sons, with the promise being that the new king would be revealed to Samuel while he was there.

When Samuel met the first of Jesse’s sons, however, the Lord gave the prophet this counsel: “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; . . . for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).

Heeding this admonition, Samuel discerned that none of Jesse’s seven oldest sons had been chosen by the Lord. “And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children?  And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep.  And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither” (1 Samuel 16:11). Immediately David was summoned, and when he arrived the Lord told the prophet: “Arise, anoint him: for this is he.”

What makes this story all the more relevant to me this afternoon is that my youngest son, Seth, turns eight tomorrow. In a week he will be baptized, and because of that event many friends and family members will gather in support. If I were to follow my usual tendencies, of course, I would spend a good portion of that time telling everyone about Seth’s extraordinary performance in school and on the athletic field. On retrospect, however, it seems that it would be a better idea for me to tell them instead of Seth’s tender heart.

He really is a great kid. I wish you could meet him. You would like him a lot.


Another Blown Opportunity

Dear Will:

When I sat down at the dinner table tonight I announced: “After dinner I want to write a letter to Will.” Big mistake.

I had this notion that I could tell you about hiking over Piute Pass in the High Sierras, about the precarious climb over granite boulders and cascading waters that we later named Almost Falls, about rising in the middle of the night and standing transfixed, unable to stop staring at stars so numerous the moon need not have bothered coming to work. I knew I would be searching for a more articulate way to say “Wow!”

But my wife had other plans. Had to go to Home Depot, she said. Had to order new front doors. Had to, just had to do it tonight lest some dignitary show up in a couple of weeks and see our home the way it has appeared since we moved into it six years ago. Had to.

And so we did. Upon our return a couple of hours later, I tucked kids into bed and sat down to read scriptures with my son Luke. It’s a nightly ritual which we have maintained for around a year now. Generally I look forward to it. But tonight I was anxious. I had a letter to write.

While we were reading, Barnum, the psychodog, was jumping up and down against the door, his nightly signal that he would appreciate it if someone (me) would take him out for one last romp before putting him to bed. I was reminded that my daughter had not ever taken him for a walk today. So next thing I knew I was wandering the cul-de-sac while Barnum dashed about in search of rabbits. And mischief. And, as it turned out, an abandoned chunk of the neighbor’s garbage. Which he deposited in my garage.

It was about then that I remembered that my niece is arriving later this evening. To accommodate her, we had to turn the study into a “guest room.” Books were scattered everywhere and needed to be put away. The bed (a blow-up mattress—pretty classy, huh?) had to be set up. Had to pull out some towels and put the mints on the pillow (to maintain a high-end atmosphere to go with our new front doors).

It was about the time that I was wrestling around on the floor with the inflate-a-bed and a contour sheet that I remembered one of the passages Luke and I had read just a few minutes earlier:

Whosoever will be great among you, shall be your minister: And whosoever of you will be the chiefest, shall be servant of all. (Mark 10:43-44)

And right about then it occurred to me that the things that had filled my evening—small things, every one—were the kinds of things I should be doing. These little acts of unremarkable service should flow from me naturally, in part as a consequence of my basic Christianity. And of course, as the thought entered my mind, it also occurred to me that I done every bit of it (even reading the scriptures, I’m ashamed to say) with the wrong attitude. Which isn’t what Jesus had in mind at all.

Oops. Another blown opportunity to do the right things for the right reasons. I suppose that doing the right things still counts for something, but it’s clear that I still have a long way to go. I really wanted to tell you about the High Sierras, but I figured that tonight this story was more important.