His Hand Is Stretched Out Still

Dear Will:

It was near dawn. The men, many of them fishermen by trade, had sailed through the night in an effort to cross the Sea of Galilee. Nevertheless, after many hours, still they had not reached Gennesaret because a powerful wind was working against them. Sleep-deprived and muscle-weary, no doubt they were exhausted by the ordeal, their nerves frazzled as they battled fatigue and fear and frustration. And still the waves rose, the wind blew, and their ship remained far from the distant shore.

If it’s true that it’s always darkest just before the dawn, then perhaps at that early morning hour they had begun to give up hope. Perhaps they felt—with good reason—that they had done all they could and yet all was for naught. Perhaps they felt as if they had been forsaken, left on their own to struggle against the forces of nature, to save their lives if they could or to resign themselves to the inevitable destruction that seemed to loom nearby.

And then, as if enough weren’t already enough, they gazed into the stormy distance and saw some sort of apparition—a phantasm, perhaps—approaching on the waves. It was very frightening—so frightening, we’re told, that they cried aloud.

Somehow, in the midst of the chaos and the panic, at this moment of ultimate desperation, a voice rose above the din. “Be of good cheer,” they heard. “It is I; be not afraid.”

It was a voice they knew. It was the voice of Jesus, their teacher, their mentor, their friend. With renewed hope surging in his breast, one of the fishermen answered back. “Lord,” cried Simon, “if it be thou, bid me come unto thee on the water.” When Jesus bade him come, Simon threw first one leg, then the other, over the side of the boat and walked upon the water toward his Lord. And still the wind blew. Still the waves climbed and fell.

We do not know how many miraculous steps Simon took that night. We do not know how far he ventured beyond the rail of that storm-tossed ship. But we do know that he walked toward Jesus, and that at some point he began to consider the difficulty of what he had undertaken, and that when he saw the effects of that boisterous wind—as the waves crashed all around him—it was, at last, too much. Giving in to fear, Simon began to sink, and he called out once again: ”Lord, save me.”

“And immediately,” we read, “Jesus stretched forth his hand, and caught him, and said unto him, ‘O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?’ And when they were come into the ship, the wind ceased. Then they that were in the ship came and worshipped him, saying, ‘Of a truth thou art the Son of God’” (Matthew 14:22-33).

Who among us has not felt at some point that his life was like a boat on a storm-tossed sea? Who among us has not felt overwhelmed, pushed to the point of emotional or physical exhaustion? Who hasn’t felt at one time or another that she simply could take no more? Who hasn’t felt to cry out, “Lord, save me”?

Of course, the promise of this story is not that the winds won’t blow. It isn’t that the waves will not rise up against us nor that journey will be made easy. The promise is that when we move toward Him He will move toward us. The promise is that if we feel ourselves starting to sink, He will reach out His hand and lift us up again.

It is not without effort, mind you. “Take my yoke upon you,” He says (Matthew 11:29). “Draw near unto me and [then] I will draw near unto you,” He promises (D&C 88:63). “Seek ye first the kingdom of God,” He urges, and then, indeed, “all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33)

“Come unto me,” says Jesus, “all ye that labour, [all ye that] are heavy laden”—you and you and you and me—all of us—“and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

This brings to mind something I witnessed recently while hiking. A man and woman were climbing a steep trail together. The man was out in front, and after stepping up onto a rock he turned and—in a moment of old-fashioned chivalry—he extended his hand to help the woman up. But the woman would have none of it. In a moment of new-fashioned liberation, perhaps, she bounded on past as if her companion weren’t even there.

That’s right. She totally left him hanging.

I loved it. But as I watched that scene play out, it brought to mind a phrase often repeated by Isaiah in reference to our Lord and Savior: “His hand is stretched out still” (Isaiah 5:25, etc.). As I wandered the hills that day, I began to consider how often the Lord has extended His hand toward me and I have failed to grasp it.

How often have I have faced obstacles and chosen simply to power through them on my own? How often have I chosen to do things my way in contradiction to the inspired guidance of a loving Father? How often have I allowed pride and stubbornness to separate me from the Divine? And yet, no doubt, His hand was stretched out still.

How often do we disregard the commandments or think we know better than the prophets of God? How often do we make ourselves miserable, allowing ourselves to be dragged down to the gulf of misery and endless wo (Helaman 5:12)—and yet His hand is stretched out still?

How often? And yet—no matter how often—we cannot disqualify ourselves from this promise. We cannot put ourselves beyond His reach. In fact, no matter how foolish our choices may have been, no matter how far we may have drifted—He will be waiting there for us, and His hand will be stretched out still.

Even if we have been richly blessed and have chosen nonetheless to walk away, and even if in our wanderings we seem to have wasted our divine inheritance on riotous living, when we come unto ourselves and look, at last, toward Christ, we will see that His hand, as ever, is stretched out still (see Luke 15:11-24).

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has stated: “However many chances you think you have missed, however many mistakes you feel you have made or talents you think you don’t have, or however far from home and family and God you feel you have traveled, I testify that you have not traveled beyond the reach of divine love. It is not possible for you to sink lower than the infinite light of Christ’s Atonement shines” (“The Laborers in the Vineyard,” Ensign, May 2012).

When Jesus took on a mortal body—when He condescended to become like us—he suffered sicknesses and pains, afflictions and temptations, infirmities of every kind so that He would know, in that moment of despair, how to succor us commensurate with our suffering (Alma 7:11-12). That is, He came to understand and know what it is you feel when you lose your job or when the baby is sick or when you said that awful thing you never, ever should have said. He knows what it’s like when your husband dies or when your son is having a crisis of faith. He knows the ache that comes from feeling unloved or unnoticed, friendless even among the friendly. He knows all about your sleepless worry when the purse is empty and the end of the month is still two weeks away. He knows your disappointments, your frustrations, your hopelessness and your doubts. And above all, He knows the emptiness you feel when you commit that sin—again—that you swore you would never again commit, or when you find yourself bound by addiction or bad habits or spiritual weakness of any kind, weighed down by present-day consequences of bad choices made many years ago.

He descended below them all (D&C 122:8)—suffered them all—that we might not suffer (D&C 19:16). It is for that very reason that He said: “Come unto me,” for that very reason that He promised rest and relief to the heavy laden. It is for that very reason that His hand is stretched out still.

As we welcome in this Easter week, may we reflect on the promise of that outstretched hand—a promise He can keep today because of what He suffered for us nearly 2000 years ago. May we find ourselves, as Simon and Mary and Enos and countless others, calling out to Him in our moments of need. May we show our thanks for His sacrifice by accepting His love and taking His name upon us and keeping His commandments.

And may we always remember what took place on that first Good Friday—the very best Friday of all—when His hands were stretched out across that sacrificial beam. His hands were stretched out then . . . that they might be stretched out now. And to this day, His hands are stretched out still.

PW

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An Anchor in the Whirlwind

Dear Will:

On my way into work yesterday, I heard a report on NPR saying that, according to the Department of Transportation, Americans drove 10 billion fewer miles in May of 2008 than they did in May of 2007. That’s 10 billion. Imagine a guy who normally drives 1,000 miles in a month simply deciding not to drive anywhere for 30 days. You’d need 10 million such guys in order to make 10 billion. Incredible.

That’s what happens, I guess, when gas settles in at over $4.00 a gallon. Just this morning I filled my tank and paid only $4.15. And I was thinking I got a pretty good deal. That’s crazy.

Which is why I recently found myself online reading about how to get more miles per gallon without switching cars. It’s pretty simple, as it turns out: Accelerate slowly. Lose speed when climbing a hill. Coast whenever possible. Drive without the AC. In other words, all I have to do is change all of the bad habits I’ve formed over years and years of aggressive driving. (Update: I’ve tried, and it’s not going well.)

I also went online to figure out how to get to and from work if I were to rely solely on public transportation. It’s more straightforward than I expected: I can catch a bus on Chapman, ride it down to the train depot, and from there catch a second bus which will drop me at the corner by my office. Piece o’ cake. The only catch is that the one-way ride will take me two hours. (Let’s just say I’m not ready to make that switch just yet.)

I bring all of this up because I work for a large advertising agency. Our biggest client is a Japanese carmaker. So these issues affect more than just my “carbon footprint” and my disposable income. They threaten my very livelihood. It’s more than a bit unsettling.

Of course, I’m not alone when it comes to feeling threatened. You would be hard-pressed to name an industry which isn’t affected in some way by this recent shift in our economy. Transportation and manufacturing costs are skyrocketing even as real estate prices are plummeting. The price of everything is affected. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do get the sense that we are in the midst of a permanent shift to which we are all going to have to adapt. It will be painful, no doubt. Change generally is.

In times of such uncertainty, I confess that I draw a great deal of comfort from my faith. I get nervous for the future just like anybody else, but I feel as though my foundation is solid nonetheless. I’m reminded of these words from the Book of Mormon:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea, his shafts in the whirlwind, yea, when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you, it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall. (Helaman 5:12)

Now I’m not trying to suggest that our current economic woes are the work of the devil. All I mean is that in the midst of the current whirlwind, I feel anchored, confident that, come what may, my family and I will make it through. Somehow.

That’s my prayer, in any case. May God bless you likewise.

PW

Someone to Tuggle Wiff

Dear Will:

We live just off of Cannon Street, about a block south of Linda Vista School.  If you have ever walked along Cannon on the Linda Vista side of the hill, you know that the wind whistles down the street at a pretty good clip, even on a relatively calm evening.  On a blustery night like this one, however, the wind comes rushing over the pass and through our backyard like it’s about to miss the last train out of town.  Whenever that happens, the wind chimes push and shove each other to try to get out of the way, the fichus gets trampled and dry leaves start to huddle together beside the shrubs like accident victims looking for moral support.  The sound can be impressive, and with very little imagination you can start to feel a little like Dorothy Gale just before she took her unscheduled trip to Oz.

Of course, usually the source of such turbulence is the Santa Anas, which warm the air and make you feel as if spring has come early.  Tonight, however, it’s a cold wind, sent with love from Canada, and I’m having trouble reconciling the sights and sounds with the temperature.  We don’t get cold winds around here, so it’s creating some mental dissonance for me that is intriguing.  (Can you tell I’m not outside writing this?  I’m sure if I were out rescuing the fichus like I’m supposed to be, dissonance is not the word that would come to mind.)

I stop typing and head upstairs to tend to a fussing two-year-old.  “I think I’m sad,” Seth tells me.  When I ask why he explains that he needs somebody to snuggle with, or as he puts it, “someone to tuggle wiff.”  I indulge him ever so briefly (he and I have already had our goodnight tuggle for the night) and suggest he cozy up with his stuffed elephant instead.  I sneak out.

While I may be a little annoyed by the interruption, I have to admit he’s pretty cute.  I also have to admit that his instincts are absolutely correct.  When the world goes strangely cold and everything about us is thrown into disarray, it’s good to have something familiar to reach for.  (You had to wonder how I was going to turn this into a “message,” didn’t you?)  In such moments, I often find myself on my knees in prayer or reaching for the scriptures.  One verse in particular is a comforting reminder of where strength can best be found when the storms of life strike hard:

And now, my sons, remember, remember that it is upon the rock of our Redeemer, who is Christ, the Son of God, that ye must build your foundation; that when the devil shall send forth his mighty winds, yea his shafts in the whirlwind, yea when all his hail and his mighty storm shall beat upon you , it shall have no power over you to drag you down to the gulf of misery and endless wo, because of the rock upon which ye are built, which is a sure foundation, a foundation whereon if men build they cannot fall.   (Helaman 5:12)

At last, Seth goes quiet, and with reluctance I face the task of moving the fichus to the side of the house.  As I venture out into the windstorm, I shall do my best not to get blown into the neighbor’s swimming pool.  Before I sign off, let me remind you of my sincere offer to help you if I can should the wind ever prove too strong for you.  I would welcome a phone call or an e-mail any time.

PW