My Fast Solution to the Drought

Dear Will:

If you drive east on Katella Avenue toward Orange Park Acres and the canyons beyond, you come to large dip in the road where it crosses the recharge basin for Santiago Creek. I’ve always assumed that scoop in the road to be a sort of flood control precaution—you know, should the creek swell and overwhelm the surrounding cavity.

As if. The water level in the basin has been so low for so long that the thought of flooding would be laughable if the situation weren’t so sad. Because of that near-empty hollow, I have come to dread that eastbound drive toward my home. It has become an almost-daily reminder of the prolonged drought which prompted California Governor Jerry Brown to declare a State of Emergency in January. How bad is it? They say that this drought (four years old and counting) is the worst in over 100 years. Snow packs are disappearing. Lakes and reservoirs are shrinking. Farms are lying fallow. The drought even has its own website. And its own logo.

State of California Drought Portal Logo

And now that the governor has imposed restrictions on how often and how long we can run our sprinklers, my lawn, along with countless others, has begun what promises to be a slow, brown death.

I suppose it’s only fair. They say that not watering my lawn is the single best way for me to contribute to the conservation effort; so OK, I’ll do my part. But as I look out on the thirsty landscape and ponder the seeming impossibility of reversing years of irresponsible environmental practices and unchecked modern living, I can’t help but hope for some Divine Intervention—that God, in His infinite mercy, will bless us far beyond our merit and call down steady, prolonged rains upon our parched and withering state.

But how in the world could we actually make that petition? Elijah ended a drought single-handedly, but then again, it was a drought of his own making (see 1 Kings 17 and 18)—plus he had the benefit of the sealing power. I lack both the power and the panache of that guy. What could I or any of us do to call down the powers of heaven from our relatively powerless and obscure positions?

The short answer: I’m not sure. But I do have one idea worth trying. Isaiah taught that if we observe a true fast, setting aside our own physical needs to share with those less fortunate, the blessings are numerous—including this one: “And the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not” (Isaiah 58:11).

I realize, of course, that in his typically metaphorical prose, Isaiah was likely not referring to a literal drought. But why not? We are not far from the day in which the dry land will begin to have a desiccating impact on our souls as well. What’s more, I can’t think of a more worthy appeal to make during a prayerful fast, especially as we allow that period of physical deprivation to cause our hearts to go out to those around us who suffer from want. In fact, Isaiah says that one of the other blessings of a heartfelt fast is this: “Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am” (Isaiah 58:9).

So here’s my plan: Beginning next Sunday (June 7), and on the first Sunday of every month hereafter, I intend to put Isaiah to the test. I will abstain from food and water for 24 hours. I will contribute what I might have spent on food that day (and then some) as an offering to assist the needy. And between now and then, I will plead to God for rain—and lots of it. I’m not so arrogant as to think that my humble prayers will be sufficient to solve a four-year drought, but if I could get you—and many others like you—to join me in this effort, who knows?  I think it’s certainly worth a try.

So what do you say? Are you with me?


Looking on the Heart

Dear Will:

When I was in the second grade, Robert Maxwell and I were appointed by Mrs. Appleton as ball monitors at Mariposa Elementary. What that meant is that at the end of the last recess of the day, when all of the other kids were in class doing Reading Time or whatever they called it, Robert and I were roaming the playground, gathering up all of the balls and putting them away for the night. It was fun and cool at the same time, especially because it meant we got more playground time than anyone.

The trickiest task was detaching the tetherballs from their poles. We could barely reach the chains to which they were clipped, as I recall, so we had to give one another a boost to achieve our purpose. It’s hard to believe, to be honest, because I have since returned to Mariposa and noted with some surprise just how close to the ground those chains hang. Could I have really been that small when I was in Mrs. Appleton’s class?

I suppose it was a bit of a stretch (literally!) to assign two boys so small to that task. But what a terrific affirmation it proved to be. We were unsupervised, trusted to do an important job on behalf of the entire school. And although the chore itself was not especially difficult, it was useful to others and an important assignment for me. It caused me to think of myself in a slightly different light—as one who was worthy of trust and capable of representing others in a meaningful way.

I find myself thinking back to Mariposa School because my youngest son Seth turned 12 yesterday, which meant that today he received the Aaronic Priesthood and was ordained a deacon. His initial assignments as a priesthood-holder will not be especially difficult, but they will be of importance to others. He will be passing the sacrament to the congregation each Sunday, facilitating in this small way the renewal of eternal covenants and commitments. He will gather offerings on behalf of the poor and needy and return them to the bishop. And he will be given ongoing responsibility for the upkeep and care of the chapel in which we meet.

Seth admitted to me that he was unsure of whether he was ready and worthy to become a deacon. Our bishop, Bishop Hales, assured him that he was and authorized his ordination—and you can already see that it is having an impact on my son. He was nervous and excited as he anticipated this day, as I’m sure he will be next week when he passes the sacrament for the first time. As he grows increasingly comfortable with his duties, however, I think we will witness a maturation made possible by his acceptance of the authority to serve others in the name of God.

You may recall that when David was anointed King of Israel, he was young and unimpressive compared to his older brothers. The Lord gently chided Samuel the prophet for not seeing in David the divine potential that lay within. “Look not on his countenance,” the Lord told him, “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).

Likewise my son isn’t much to look at (he’s only 12, after all). But today he was set apart from most boys his age because of the goodness in his heart. Although he’ll be stretched in the years ahead as he works to fulfill his duties, and although he’ll need a boost from time to time to complete his assignments, I’m confident that he will prove to be more than worthy of the trust that has been placed in him. I’m proud of who he is and what he is becoming, and pleased that others have seen in him the divine potential that makes him, in my view, extraordinary.