All the Sense in the World

Dear Will:

This morning I was at work, about to go into our regular Monday morning planning meeting, when an unfamiliar number flashed on my cellphone. On the other end of the line was a woman from Bakersfield, calling on behalf of a friend. She explained that the friend’s four-year-old was in the intensive care unit at CHOC, with fluid in his tiny lungs and an irregular heartbeat. Was there someone, she wondered, who might be willing to go to the hospital and give the child a blessing? I knew there was and did my best to reassure her that we would have someone at the ICU shortly.

Immediately I called the hospital to speak with the mother of the boy. Too shaken to talk, she handed the phone to a daughter who gave me the full background on the situation: The boy was in town visiting Knott’s Berry Farm with another family. He had no history of health problems. He had collapsed and had to be revived. The hospital now had him sedated and on a ventilator while they worked to drain his lungs. Terrifying.

As you would imagine, the anxiety, fear, and emotion were palpable as she described the shocking phone call that summoned the family from the Central Valley just hours before. As a parent, it was not hard for me to feel some of that same anxiety myself as we talked. I’ve had some experience in the past with families fighting for the life of a child hundreds of miles from home. My heart ached.

As I considered their plight, my mind flashed to the life of Christ. I thought of the young man, sick since childhood, who gnashed and foamed and thrashed about uncontrollably. Beyond hope, his father finally came to Jesus. “If thou canst do any thing, have compassion on us, and help us,” the father said. The Lord responded, “If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth.”

Those terms were almost more than the desperate father could bear. Through tears he offered what little faith he could muster: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief” (Mark 9:22-24). Of course, that meager faith was plenty for the One whose grace is sufficient to heal all that befalls us. The tormented young man was cured on the spot.

And what of Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue, whose only daughter lay dying? He fell at the Master’s feet and “besought him greatly” on behalf of the girl. His circumstances were perhaps even more grave than those of the father of the demoniac, for Jairus’ daughter died before Jesus could arrive at her bedside. Nevertheless, once inside the home, the Savior took the girl by the hand and restored her to life (Mark 5:21-43).

The mother of the boy at CHOC no doubt felt the selfsame longing for divine assistance.  And thus she turned to those authorized to act on behalf of the Master Healer. Within a couple of hours, Bro. Miller and Bro. Fisher, two high priests from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, were at her side. Invoking their Holy Priesthood, they placed hands on the head of the ailing boy, and with simple words pronounced a blessing in the name of Christ.

Several hours later, I called the boy’s sister to check on his condition. Her tone was completely different. Her brother had improved so markedly that they had removed the ventilator, withdrawn the sedatives. The boy was alert in bed, improved so vastly and so quickly that several doctors had gathered in his room to consider his remarkable case. His recovery was unprecedented. It seemed miraculous.

And yet it makes all the sense in the world.


Over Par for Life

Dear Will:

When I was around 16 years old, I had a life-changing experience while strolling down the fairway at the Glendora Country Club. It was summertime, and I was golfing with friends—Tim Patterson probably, perhaps Jeff Salter or Mike Daly or maybe Brian Regele. I was in the midst of a typical round of exasperating, worse-than-bogie golf. After chunking another short iron and slamming my club to the ground in frustration, I had a great epiphany—as if angelic choirs were singing a hymn composed for me and me alone. You will never be any good at this game, the cherubim seemed to intone. Amen and amen.

Even so, I’ve always liked golf—still do. But I’m terrible at it in ways that the word terrible fails to adequately express. I could spend thousands on lessons and equipment and greens fees, quit my job and devote myself to the game full time, but I would remain, at best, a mediocre golfer, one who knows that over par is the best he should ever reasonably hope for. Anything better than that, on any single hole on any single day, is not just an aberration but a fluke of miraculous proportions.

I was pondering all of this the other day while hacking my way around a course with some friends from work. I had five bogies and four worse-then-bogies in nine holes on a relatively easy golf course. Final score: many, many strokes more than allowed, significantly  and emphatically over par. As always. Forever. Just like my life, I thought.

At which point the choirs sang again.

Over Par for Life—the only standard I consistently live up to. If I had a personal website, down by my logo you might find the tagline: “Falling Short Since 1968.” Good intentions I have down cold. Successful follow-through, on the other hand? Not so much. In theory, I’m a terrific husband and father, a dedicated employee, an unselfish, generous, kindhearted soul who is unflappable in the face of trouble and impervious to stress. In practice, however,  I’m as proud as the next guy, self-serving and self-righteous, low on patience and cranky when it suits me. Plus I’m way too quick to raise my voice. Way.

Consequently, this is not one of my favorite scriptures: “What manner of men ought ye to be?” Jesus asked.  “Verily I say unto you, even as I am” (3 Nephi 27:27). I think that pretty much means that I’m supposed to be nice to everyone all the time, control my temper, think of others first, give until I have nothing left to give. I’m supposed to uphold all 12 of the principles in the Scout Law and live the Young Women’s Values at the same time.  Be totally other than I am, in other words.

You will never be any good at this game. Amen and amen.

And yet, even for a perpetual duffer like me, there remains not just a glimmer of hope, but an incandescent hope so bright that it cannot be ignored. The whole reason Jesus came to this earth in the first place was to make a way for us, in spite of our imperfections, to reconcile ourselves with God.  “If men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness,” the Lord has said.  “I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them” (Ether 12:27).

So there you have it: a fighting chance for all of us who perpetually fail to measure up. Over Par for Life, perhaps, but His grace is sufficient to make up the difference. Sufficient. Enough. Even for a hacker like me.

Now if only I could get that promise to apply to my golf game. That would be truly something.


Such As I Have

Dear Will:

I think I may have mentioned that I am in my second year of teaching early morning Seminary—the Mormon equivalent of Bible Study. Each school-day morning I gather with 15 or 16 high-schoolers (juniors and seniors this year) for a 50-minute discussion of the New Testament. So here’s a little taste of what I’ve been up to recently while you were at home eating Cocoa Puffs and reading the sports page:

Last week we completed our study of the four gospels. We lingered a bit on the shore of the Sea of Tiberias to consider the Savior’s final recorded conversation with his disciples (John 21). We took interest in the fact that the miracle which took place that day (a prodigious haul of fishes) was essentially identical to the one which occurred the day Jesus called Peter, James, John, and Andrew into the ministry. It was an effective reminder, we thought, that the apostles were supposed to be fishing for men rather than mackerel.

“Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou me more than these?” Thus began the awkward, perhaps even a little painful, but finally redemptive conversation between Jesus and his senior apostle. We noted how Jesus lovingly gave Peter three opportunities to confess Him—in fitting recompense for his three denials on the night and early morning before Jesus’ crucifixion. Those confessions were each followed by an admonition to feed the lambs and sheep of the Good Shepherd. We discussed how that admonition applies equally to us—after all, ours are His hands. He must rely on us to do the feeding. We talked about what that might mean—and who it is we might try to feed.

So, what if he asked each of us: “Lovest thou me?” How would He have us show our love for Him? The discussion led us to recall a couple of our Scripture Mastery verses for the year: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me” (Matt. 25:40); and “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). We also recalled a verse made familiar by a Primary song (which I sang briefly for them just to make them squirm): “By this shall men know ye are my disciples: If ye have love one to another.” There really is no other way to show that you are truly a Christian.

This week, we’ll be talking about the first few chapters of Acts, including one of my favorite stories of all-time: the healing of the lame man at the temple gates (Acts 3 and 4). One thing we will discuss for sure is the profound lesson contained within Peter’s simple declaration: “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.” All Jesus asks us to give is “such as we have.” That is enough. His grace is sufficient to make up the rest. That even applies to the groggy and halfhearted who nevertheless find a way to stagger into the room and join me each morning at Seminary. And it applies to you and me as well.

I think of that event, from time to time: Of the two apostles—men of simple means—giving such as they had to bless that man’s life. And at such moments, I recommit to giving such as I have, whenever the opportunity presents itself.

Perhaps this is just such an opportunity. And this brief note is such as I have.