Blown Away

Dear Will:

As I think I may have mentioned, my daughter Bryn left her job dancing for American Ballet Theatre and enrolled in BYU in the Fall. Although at first it was tough to adjust to Provo after having lived in Manhattan the previous year, Bryn took immediately to college. She loved the chance to explore new ideas, meet new people, and feel like a “normal” person for a change.

So imagine our surprise when she called us in October to inform us that she had accepted a job dancing for the Royal New Zealand Ballet in Wellington. Starting December 9. A week before the end of the semester.

Suddenly we found ourselves trying to help Bryn figure out how to move to New Zealand without failing all of her classes. Our efforts were mostly ham-handed, I must confess, as we found it difficult—the amazing Internet notwithstanding—to determine where to live, how to set up a bank account, what to do about phone services . . . the list goes on.

Fortunately, we have a missionary serving here in our ward who is from (it’s hard to believe) Wellington, New Zealand. When he heard our exciting, perplexing news, he immediately contacted his family and just like that we had new friends in Wellington offering to help.

(An aside: If you haven’t met Elder Savaiinaea yet, you should make a point to do so. He is one of the most charming, delightful missionaries to come through here in a long time.)

It then occurred to me that there is a family from New Zealand right here in our stake. I barely know him, but I approached Brother Broederlow and told him of Bryn’s impending move. Within 24 hours he had reached out to friends in Wellington, and before I knew it I was corresponding with Leonie and Peter Brunt, who offered to pick Bryn up at the airport, show her around the city, and give her a place to stay until she figured out a permanent solution.

(Another aside: When Bryn departed LAX, we knew we’d have no way of corresponding with her until she reached out to us somehow. So you can imagine how I felt when I got an email from Leonie which included a picture of her and Bryn on a windy hill in Wellington. I wanted to cry. I can’t tell you how comforting it was to know that someone was watching out for my little girl.)

Bryn and Leonie

I could go on for pages about the Brunts, but they are not the only people who have reached out to Bryn since she arrived in Wellington. When Christmas arrived, Bryn spent several days living with the Charions, a wonderful family she met at the ward there. While it was very hard for us to be apart on Christmas, it was wonderful to see Bryn gathered in by another loving family as she tries to find her place in a strange land far from home.

As I contemplate all of this, I am blown away. No one could reasonably expect this sort of selfless regard by strangers for my daughter’s welfare. The Savaiinaeas and Brunts and Charions are simply living the principles that Jesus taught—and as a consequence their actions cause me to feel His love as well. After telling the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus said, “Go, and do thou likewise.” Which is precisely what they have done.

What a blessing it is to associate with people such as this: members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, my brothers and sisters in a very real sense.

PW

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We Will Miss Him

Dear Will:

As you may have heard, Gordon B. Hinckley, President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died last week. He was 97. His funeral was on Saturday

I got a phone call a couple of Sundays ago from my mother who was calling to share the news of his passing. When I got off the phone, I told my wife and son Seth what I had just learned. Now Seth, who is almost nine, has always been a tender-hearted soul, one who feels deeply the suffering of others (including, or perhaps especially, all types of animals). Upon learning of President Hinckley’s death, Seth began to sob. We held him close, of course, and asked him to tell us what he thought of our dear prophet. Through his tears, Seth said simply: “He was a really nice man.”

As you might guess, Seth has never met Gordon B. Hinckley, but such was the power of this aged man that even a child such as Seth could feel the warmth of his love and sense the true Christian spirit which he possessed. The thing that I always admired about him was that he was so good and making people feel good even as he was admonishing them to try harder, stand taller, do more, be better. He was not the sort to shame you into changing your ways. Rather he made you want to be better than you are.

As it turns out, I was privileged to hear one of his last sermons. On Sunday, January 13, just two weeks before his death, he spoke via satellite to all Church members throughout Southern California. I sat with my family as he counseled us regarding our relationships with one another. He identified four cornerstones which should secure the foundation of each family:

1. Mutual Respect
He reminded couples to respect one another’s differences, which are not necessarily undesirable. Those differences make our companionships more interesting. He pointed out that we would all be better off if we expressed an “anxious concern” for one another. He encouraged us to look for virtues rather than faults. He said: “Love sees more, but chooses to see less.”

2. The Soft Answer
We are told in Proverbs that “a soft answer turneth away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). President Hinckley reminded us that when we talk to one another quietly we are speaking the language of God. God spoke to Elijah in “a still, small voice” (1 Kings 19:12) We should follow that example.

3. Financial Honesty
The Prophet reported that money causes more trouble in marriage than all other causes combined. He encouraged us all to pay an honest tithe so that God might open up the windows of heaven. Couples, he said, should provide one another freedom and independence on most day-to-day expenses but come to an agreement before making any large expenditures.

4. Family Prayer
When we pray together, President Hinckley told us, we will have peace in our hearts and joy in our lives. Family prayer in particular will strengthen our love for each other while providing our children with a greater sense of security.

After that meeting concluded, Dana and I typed those four cornerstones onto a piece of paper and gathered our kids to discuss their importance. We have a long way to go before we can pretend to live true to President Hinckley’s good counsel, but we’re now trying harder than before. As I said, he was always the sort of person that had a way to make you want to be a better person.

We will miss him.

PW

The Healing Power of Forgiveness

Dear Will:

James E. Faust died earlier this month. His passing caused hardly a ripple in the national press, but for us members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it was a significant loss.  Faust served over 12 years as a counselor in the First Presidency, and during that time we came to know him as a wise and sensitive man. Personally, I will miss his sense of humor and clear, articulate sermons. Although he was by any definition an “old man,” when he spoke my children always listened. I think it was because he never talked down to them nor did he talk over their heads. When President Faust addressed a congregation, the message always seemed personal and heartfelt.

In his honor, therefore, I will spare you my usual ramblings and share with you instead something much more meaningful: James E. Fausts’ discourse on “The Healing Power of Forgiveness,” delivered during the April, 2007 General Conference. After we heard it, many of us commented on what a remarkable discourse it was. Little did we know at the time that we would not be hearing from this great man again.

You can read it here, or watch it here. This is a little longer than my usual letter, but it’s well worth the read. I hope you enjoy it.

PW