What I Wrote Then. How I’m Doing Now.

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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

This Is Who They Are

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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

I’m Pretty Sure I’m Psychic. Or At Least I Hope So.

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Dear Will:

Years ago, in the midst of a long, mind-numbing road trip with the family, I introduced my kids to a game that had not existed five minutes prior. Making it up as I went, I outlined the rules: I announce a category of my own choosing—let’s say “Animals.” Then I silently select a specific item from that category and try to tell you what I’m thinking without saying a thing—no gestures, no other clues of any kind. “I must communicate to you solely through the sheer force of my prodigious, telepathic powers,” I told them. “Even now I am sending forth psychic emanations! I am devoting all available synapses to this one thing! Divine it, and we shall have achieved . . . PSYCHIC WONDER!”

In case you didn’t recognize it, this is fun. Or as my wife, Dana, might put it: insufferable. (Which, just between you and me, is what actually makes it fun. Don’t tell her I said so.) Nevertheless, in spite of its manifest stupidity, it was the ridiculousness of Psychic Wonder that made it for me somewhat irresistible in moments when I was feeling silly or when I saw an opportunity to embarrass my children (also fun). Thus I frequently subjected a backseat full of carpoolers to Psychic Wonder on the way to school. Alas, the game never really lasted very long—for some reason I never found anyone as good at it as I was.

Over the years, I introduced my children to a number of these not-quite-games, invented on the fly and precisely honed in the carpool laboratory. Sometimes we “played” Factoids or Poetry Hour or a thing I called Life Is Like, in which one person would begin a simile and everyone else would have to try to Forrest-Gump a suitable ending. (Go ahead. Give it a try: “Life is like a box of Hamburger Helper. . . .” FUN!) Or here’s another one that Dana “loves”: Shamu or Celery. I choose a random something-or-other (nose hairs!) and then we debate whether that something-or-other is more like Shamu or more like celery. (The correct answer, in this case, is celery. Obviously.) That game just might be Dana’s all-time favorite, as you can imagine.

I ask you: What’s a better way to fill the 15 minutes between home and La Veta Elementary? Throw into the background some not-so-classic rock from decades prior and you’ll be pulling up into the drop-off zone in no time. Not only will you have amused and delighted approximately one person in the car, but the kids will be pushing and shoving, climbing over each other to get out the door and onto the curb, looking at your son as if to say, “Luke: What’s with your dad?”

I miss those mornings, winding through the streets of Orange with a Mazda full of braces and nervous energy. Sadly, my carpool days long ago receded into my rearview mirror. Luke, now all grown up, married and established, drives himself to work each day; Bryn, committed to doing what she can to save the planet, prefers a bike or public transit as she completes her degree; and Seth, working as a missionary in Salto de Guairá, Paraguay, has little choice but to walk everyplace he goes. I now find myself commuting in an empty car, inching along the 405 freeway, alone with my thoughts, hoping that somehow, way back when, somewhere between the garage and the crossing-guard, my kids got the message embedded within that early-morning nonsense, conveyed to them by something more heartfelt than psychic emanations. Conveyed to them even now, as I write this and hope that in this moment they can divine what I’m thinking, no matter how far away they may be.

So that maybe the next time someone asks “What’s with your dad?,” they’ll immediately know the answer, and they’ll feel it—deep down. PSYCHIC WONDER!

PW