Which Makes Me Think of You

Dear Will:

I was puttering around the kitchen the other day when my wife, Dana, hollered from upstairs. She needed me. RIGHT NOW.

She was frantic. While changing the cartridge in her printer, a drop of ink had plopped onto the carpet, leaving a dark, unsightly spot. Immediately she tried to wipe it up, but all she managed was to smear it around and make things worse. So the two of us dashed around the house, pulling various cleaning products out from under various sinks until we found a couple of options that we hoped might do the trick. We weren’t successful the first time, but eventually we found just the thing. It looked like just some clear liquid, but properly applied it was magical. It took a little work, but after some vigorous rubbing with a damp cloth the blotch was gone—wiped clean, as if it had never been there before. And I thought to myself: How is that even possible?

Which, in turn, made me think of Enos.

From what we can tell, Enos was a rather sinful guy. He described a life-turning day in the wilderness when he went out to hunt but never lifted his bow. That day, as he reflected on his life and circumstances, he began to wrestle within himself, struggling perhaps with the conflict between his “natural” impulses and the enticings of the Holy Spirit that engendered in him a desire to rise up and become a better man (see: Mosiah 3:19). He began to hunger for a signal from God—some indication that he might be forgiven of his wayward ways. So racked was he, so burdened by the weight of regret, that all day and night he prayed, and yet relief would not come. Finally, after many heartwrenching hours, he heard the voice of God: “Enos, thy sins are forgiven thee, and thou shalt be blessed.” In that very instant, Enos’s guilt was swept away—as if it had never been there before—leaving him both overjoyed and puzzled: “Lord,” he wondered,  “how is it done?”

Which, in turn, made me think of Jesus.

The promise of the Atonement is that we can be freed of our earth-stains, made clean by the blood of Christ. His blood, said John, “cleanseth us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). That cleansing power is freely offered by the Savior to all—not just to Enos, but to every person on the face of the earth. And it’s a good thing: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

Including me. One of the primary reasons I go to church each week is to partake of the sacrament,  a sacred representation of the cleansing blood of Christ. It is an opportunity to be made whole—unblemished—on a weekly basis. Or as the scripture says: “And that thou mayest more fully keep thyself unspotted from the world, thou shalt go to the house of prayer and offer up thy sacraments upon my holy day” (D&C 59:9).

From time to time we all say or do things that we regret, make mistakes or commit transgressions for which we would like to be forgiven. So each week in the Santiago Creek Ward a big group of us sinners gather to partake of the sacrament together—to allow that clear liquid to make us clean. As we do so, we experience the renewal of spirit promised by the prophet Isaiah: “Though your sins be as scarlet,” he wrote, “they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). I am so grateful to be blessed with such friends, so privileged to receive that weekly gift from God, so eager for others to enjoy that blessing with me.

Which, in turn, makes me think of you.

PW

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One of the Truly Lucky Ones

Dear Will:

My 50th birthday is fast approaching. Yuck. It’s not that 50 is old, per se, but the milestone has caused me to pause, consider, and recoil: What do I have to show for myself at this point?

My first thought is: Not much. I have a decent career in which I get paid more than most but not enough that anyone would consider me wealthy by any stretch. And I’ve bounced from job to job so much that anyone who really knows would likely smirk at the notion that such peregrinations could ever be considered a “career.” Even so, the kids are fed and clothed, the mortgage is current, and at least for now I’m still getting paid twice a month.

But still. . . .

I can’t exactly say that I’m as secure as I might have imagined when I set off on adulthood 30-some years ago. Isn’t this that point in life in which I’m supposed to be overpaid and playing a lot of golf? When the house is paid for and I’m taking annual trips to Bermuda or the British Isles? When the nest egg is building toward early retirement in just a few more years? Well, that isn’t exactly how it has worked out.

And this. . . .

My bald-headed body is starting to show significant wear-and-tear. I have the chronic lower back pain often associated with middle age. My eyesight isn’t what it once was. Last week I learned that I have a torn rotator cuff in my left shoulder. I’ll spare you the results of the mid-century physical, but let’s just say that the results were inconclusive. And I don’t even want to think about what’s going on in my right knee.

But still. . . .

My heart is strong and I weigh only slightly more than I’m supposed to. I have an amazing wife (my first and only) and three terrific kids. We live in a nice house in a free land with all of the modern conveniences you could hope for. My wife and children all are interesting, engaging people full of talent and potential. We have all been blessed with excellent health (the bald head and rotator cuff notwithstanding). And we live near the people we love the most, surrounded by good friends and neighbors.

And this. . . .

We have, at the center of our lives, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which provides for us an anchor when times are rough and a guide as we face an uncertain future. And it is through an understanding of that gospel that I know of a surety that in that which matters most I am one of the truly lucky ones.

There is certainly no glamor in turning 50. But I take great solace in knowing that the purpose of my existence is in part fulfilled by my earthly challenges and successes. And Christ has given this assurance: That if I seek His kingdom first and foremost, all other needful things will be added unto me (see, for example, Matthew 6:24-34, or Jacob 2:18-19). That is not a promise of worldly goods or riches so much as it is the promise of perspective and eternal happiness. In that sense, I aspire to be like Paul, who said: “Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content” (Philippians 4:11).

Have I fallen short of the dreams of my youth? In several unimportant ways, perhaps. But have I been blessed far beyond measure or merit? No question. And I thank God for that.

PW

What Do You Say?

Dear Will:

A friend of mine died last week. He was only 57, and as far as most of us knew, he was in reasonably good health. But then he broke his leg, which led to an infection, which led to pneumonia, and before we knew it he was on life-support. On Monday night, his wife of 30 years honored his wishes and instructed his doctors to disconnect the equipment that was keeping him alive. Within 15 minutes he was gone.

What a jolt. Those of us on the periphery had been told that he was slowly improving, but then last weekend he took a final, fatal turn for the worse. As you might imagine, his wife was devastated—is devastated. As she said to me: “We were supposed to grow old together. Now what am I supposed to do?”

What do you say to someone in a moment like that? Mostly you offer trite words of consolation: “I’m so sorry. He was a great guy. It’s not fair that you should lose him at such an early age.” And on and on. But as I said, such pronouncements, however sincere, are trite at best. They do not begin to provide substantive solace or meaningful counsel.

The truth is that the only way to get one’s bearings after the unexpected loss of a loved one is through words of eternal significance. When my father died last year, those were the only words that brought me any sense of comfort. I remember that the words of Job came repeatedly to mind at that time: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God” (Job 19:25-26). Knowing, as I did, that life extends beyond this mortal existence made it much easier for me to accept his death.

The scriptures teach that faith leads to hope. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland put it this way:

Faith, Mormon taught, leads to hope, a special, theological kind of hope. The word is often used to express the most general of aspirations—wishes, if you will. But as used in the Book of Mormon it is very specific and flows naturally from one’s faith in Christ. . . .

What is the nature of this hope? It is certainly much more than wishful thinking. It is to have “hope through the atonement of Christ and the power of his resurrection, to be raised unto life eternal, and this because of your faith in him according to the promise” [Moroni 7:41]. That is the theological meaning of hope in the faith-hope-charity sequence. With an eye to that meaning, Moroni 7:42 then clearly reads, “If a man have faith [in Christ and his atonement] he must needs [as a consequence] have hope [in the promise of the Resurrection, because the two are inextricably linked]; for without faith [in Christ’s atonement] there cannot be any hope [in the Resurrection].” (Jeffrey R. Holland, Christ and the New Covenant: The Messianic Message of the Book of Mormon [1997], 334–35).

No doubt there will be the chance to talk of such things in the days ahead. In the meantime, I pray for those my friend left behind—his wife, his siblings, his close friends—who find themselves wondering about death-too-soon and life hereafter. May they come to know, as I do, that “by man came death, [and] by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:21-22).

PW