Hold Up Your Light


Dear Will:

On Saturday night, my wife and I served as chaperones at a monthly dance for the youth of our church. Kids came from a surprisingly wide radius, so there was a pretty good crowd. Although dances these days are very different than when I was a teenager, they all seemed to be having a really good time. It seemed to be good clean fun.

At one point the kids formed a tight circle in the middle of the gym, preventing us chaperones from observing what was going on within. To make matters worse, the DJ pretty much killed the lights, leaving it to the kids to illuminate the dance floor with their cell phones. Trying my best to be vigilant without being Captain Buzzkill, I wandered closer to see what kind of mischief they might be making.

The kids were pumped. As I approached this scrum, virtually every phone in the place was held aloft, creating a spotlight effect at the center of the bouncing circle of teens. And at the center of the circle? A boy with Down syndrome, doing his best John Travolta while the rest of the kids cheered him on.

He was loving it. And so was I.

In a different place with a different set of kids, you might imagine something far less virtuous when you see a group of rowdy youths gathered around a kid who is “different.” So it was heartening to see these young followers of Christ doing their best to emulate their Role Model. He showed the way and then challenged each of us to go and do likewise (Luke 10:37).  And they did.

Their timing could not have been better. As December is now upon us, the Church has embarked on an initiative to encourage all people everywhere to make an effort to “Light the World” through simple acts of service. Here’s a video that introduces the idea.

Dana and I have determined to accept the invitation, and I hope you will too. You should download this advent calendar that the Church put together with a different world-lighting idea for every day of the month leading up to Christmas. What a great way to embrace the spirit of the holidays.

Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). I hope that this Christmas season we will all hold our lights high and bring happiness to whoever comes within our circle.



A Truly Remarkable Person

Dear Will:

I have this friend named Mark who (here comes a semi-intentional pun) is a remarkable person. I will do an inadequate job of describing what makes him remarkable, but I’ll try:

Mark is a geologist with an MBA. He spends much of his professional life trying to help clean up environmental messes. His politics are unambiguous, but he does not foist his opinions on others; rather he goes about very carefully trying to make a difference in whatever way he can and lets his actions speak for him. Thus, rather than telling me to start recycling, Mark simply started doing it—about a decade before curbside service made it practical.

Mark is an organizer. Whereas my wife and I are the sorts of people who simply slip off together to catch a movie, Mark always has a larger vision. I am one of many people who often get e-mails from him which go something like this: “This weekend, the East Valley Players will be performing a series of plays by Chekhov.  We’re going to have dinner beforehand at the bistro across the street. I’m hoping a bunch of you will show up. It will make it more fun.” Likewise, from time to time, Mark invites people to his home for Shakespeare readings, carefully selecting an eclectic smattering of singles and marrieds, professionals and artists, conservatives and misfits. Invariably I meet someone new when Mark is involved, and invariably that person is interesting.

Mark also likes to climb mountains, but he isn’t satisfied just ascending with the same bunch of outdoorsmen every time. Instead, he’ll notify all of his office-dwelling, sedentary friends, challenging them to get in shape for the big assault on Mt. Whitney in April. He will take it upon himself to schedule, motivate, train the novices, organize the equipment, and even write the post-climb report for those too lazy to show up. And all of this with two bad knees. Why does he do it? Because he loves the outdoors and doesn’t want the rest of us to miss out.

The reason I bring all of this up is because last month when I took my family on vacation, our friend Mark kept popping into my mind. Whether I was driving up through South Pass in Wyoming, floating down the Shoshone River, getting blown away by Yellowstone, riding horses up to 9,000 feet or so in Jackson Hole, stopping to gasp at Cedar Breaks in Southern Utah, there was Mark, dancing in and out of my thoughts. See a geyser, think of Mark. Soak in the natural hot springs, think of Mark. Climb a hill, see some elk—see a sign for the cut off to Great Basin, for crying out loud!—and think of Mark. For good measure we even took the kids to the Shakespeare Festival and thought of Mark Mark Mark. And about the time I was driving south on I-15 through that short stretch of Arizona with the funky rocks on either side of the highway and I’m—you guessed it—thinking of Mark, it occurred to me that he could go on vacation dozens of times and not once feel compelled to think of ME. I would thrill to have my name come to mind when others gaze upon God’s most beautiful creations. Alas, such is an honor one must earn.

Henry David Thoreau said that the reason he went off to Walden Pond for a couple of years was so that he could “live deliberately.” Living deliberately is exactly what Mark does, only he doesn’t have to live like a hermit to pull it off. To the contrary, he is in here among us, raising our sights and improving our lots. Remarkable.

I have vowed to begin living more deliberately myself. We’ll see if I pull that off.


The photo above is of Mark in his heyday, just prior to what he has always described as “the best climbing trip of my life.” (It did not go well. If you ever have the good fortune of meeting him, be sure to ask about the soup.) Mark is the one on the right.