It’s a Long Time Till Wednesday

Wednesday

Dear Will:

I’m not getting any better at this stuff.

When my daughter Bryn was barely 19, she boarded a plane for New Zealand where she lived and worked for the next two years. Putting her on that Air New Zealand flight was traumatizing, especially as we faced hours and hours of radio silence awaiting word of her arrival. As fatherhood memories go, it is not one I treasure. (Fortunately, it all worked out.) Nevertheless, a year later I found myself once again standing in an airport about to send my daughter halfway round the world. And once again, it was tearful and traumatizing.

So you’d think that I might be building up a tolerance for such things. Alas, it is not so.

Last week my wife Dana and I drove to Utah to deliver Seth (our youngest) to the Missionary Training Center (MTC) in Provo. On Wednesday, July 26, he began his formal preparations to serve full-time in the Argentina Posadas Mission, which straddles the Paraná River as it runs between Argentina and Paraguay. He will be gone for about two years, during which time we will communicate with him principally through once-a-week emails. No big deal, I thought. I’ve known this day was coming his entire life. We can do this.

But on Wednesday at 2:15 pm, he disappeared into the MTC with his two ginormous suitcases filled with white shirts and other missionary essentials. And at 2:16 pm it really hit me: Wait a second. I have to wait till next Wednesday for word from Seth? But I want to know what’s happening RIGHT NOW. That thought has come back to me again and again every day since we said our good-byes. I’m not worried about his welfare (not yet, anyway—he’s in Provo, Utah, after all), but I hate being out of the loop. How does he like his teachers? What about the other missionaries he will be training with for six weeks before they fly to South America? How’s the food? What’s the routine? Has he thought about his over-invested and hyper-agitated father even once since we dropped him off? HOW IS HE DOING?!!?

We will get over it, I suppose; parents always do. But for us first-timers, our previous experiences with Bryn have proved wholly inadequate. Anxious doesn’t even begin to describe our state of distress. Our plight is exacerbated by the fact that Seth’s departure leaves us as empty-nesters for the first time, with no one but Barnum, the Moron Dog, to comfort us. So far it isn’t working.

What does comfort me is this: I know Seth’s cause and I know his heart. And I see firsthand the impact that the gospel of Jesus Christ has on the lives of those who embrace it. Faithless cynics might assert that the Church should keep its beliefs to itself, that traveling the world in search of new members is somehow inappropriate. But I see these things from a very different perspective. As bishop, I have the unique privilege of seeing the lives of new (and longtime) members of the LDS Church from behind the scenes. I see darkness dissipate as people accept the teachings of Jesus and allow His Atonement to lift their spirits and heal their broken hearts. And when that darkness lifts, I see their lives transformed by light as hope, faith and truth inform their choices and fill their beings. It’s glorious.

Seth will offer all of that to the people of Paraguay and Argentina. Most will have no interest. But those who listen earnestly and embrace his message will bless his name forever. If my wife and I have to suffer a little separation anxiety in the interim, it’s a small price to pay.

But do we really have to wait till Wednesday?

PW

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God Knows I Could Use the Lift

Dear Will:

On January 9th I stood in the Lihue airport on the island of Kauai and said goodbye—again—to my daughter Bryn. As you may recall, Bryn lives in Wellington where she dances for the Royal New Zealand Ballet. When she first moved there around 14 months ago, we were a little bit frightened and more than a little bit nervous, but we shared with her the eager anticipation that comes with adventure. She was only 19 but about to take on an exotic new job in an exotic location. For all of its attendant anxiety, the whole thing was very exciting for all of us.

A year later, much of that excitement has passed. The mystery is mostly gone, the unanswered questions mostly answered. And so the job is just a job, and the location, though still exotic, seems (somehow) much farther away. Our farewell in Lihue felt different as a consequence. Instead of eager anticipation for that first communication from afar, we stood there wondering when we might see our daughter again. We all cried. I didn’t like it.

I thought at the time of our many friends who have stood by similar ropes at similar airport security lines, sending their children off into the great unknown as they embark on full-time missions for our church. Within the last several months we have seen seven members of the Santiago Creek Ward head out to serve: in Washington, Texas, North Carolina, Chile, Scotland, Croatia, and New Zealand. All seven have left behind anxious loved ones. And all have left eager to serve.

In return, the Church has sent to the Santiago Creek Ward four exceptional young people from around the United States: Sister Laulusa (Ohio), Sister Longhurst (Idaho), Elder Long (Tennessee), and Elder Parent (Michigan). They are bright lights who are full of faith and dedication. More to the point, they carry with them the Spirit of God—you can feel it in their presence. And because they have been commissioned of Christ, if you spend any time with them at all and get a chance to hear their uplifting message of hope, one of three things is likely to happen:

  1. You will feel an increased closeness to God.
  2. You will gain a greater sense of peace and happiness.
  3. You will gain an increased understanding of your purpose in life.

I realize those are bold promises, but I do not make them casually or without basis. I’ve been around these young people, and I know. Which is why I suggest that if you are interested in any of the things I listed above, you should invite them into your home some time. It doesn’t have to be anything formal. Maybe you could just have them over for dinner or something and spend a few minutes getting to know them. Imagine drawing closer to God and receiving a greater sense of peace and happiness in exchange for a ham sandwich and cup of milk. That’s not a bad deal.

Just the other day, in fact, I was sitting at the office when a familiar song by Simon and Garfunkel came onto my computer’s music feed. It’s a song my daughter and I have sung often (and poorly) while sitting side-by-side at the family piano. The melody disrupted my concentration, and a great sense of melancholy settled over me as I thought about my girl and how long it might be before we’ll be seated side-by-side again. And while Sister Longhurst and Sister Laulusa may be poor surrogates for my own 20-year-old girl, that song seemed as good an excuse as any to invite them over—and soon. It would bless my family. And God knows I could use the lift.

PW

To See Farther and Better and More Clearly

Dear Will:

A couple of years ago there was a movie out called The Other Side of Heaven. The film stars mostly people you and I have never heard of (I think the only recognizable name might be Anne Hathaway, who has made a name for herself playing princesses in The Princess Diaries and Ella Enchanted). The movie tells the true story of John Groberg’s experiences as a missionary in the South Pacific (Tonga? I can’t remember for sure.) It’s an amazing tale, full of drama and miracles. And while a cynic like me would guess that a movie about a Mormon missionary would be a low-budget disappointment, I thought this film was pretty well done. Although it didn’t enjoy huge box-office success, you can still rent it at your local Blockbuster. I would recommend it—it’s worth the three bucks for the rental in any case.

The reason I bring this up is because I wanted to share with you one of Groberg’s stories, here now in his own words:

I was assigned as a district president to administer the affairs of the Church and preach the gospel in a group of fifteen small, scattered islands. We traveled almost exclusively by sailboat. . . .

On one occasion, we received word that a missionary was very ill on a somewhat distant island. The weather was threatening. . . . Extra heavy seas slowed our progress, and it was late afternoon before we arrived. The missionary was indeed very ill. Fervent prayer was followed by administration, during which the impression came very strongly to get him back to the hospital on the main island, and to do it now! . . .

There was much . . . talk about the darkness, the storm, the formidable reef with its extremely narrow opening to the harbor . . . but soon eight persons, including an ill missionary, a very experienced captain, and a somewhat concerned district president, boarded the boat. . . .

No sooner had we made our commitment to the open seas than the intensity of the storm seemed to increase sevenfold. . . . The thick clouds and driving rain increased the blackness of our already dark universe—no stars, no moon, no rest—only turmoil. . . .

As we rolled and tossed closer and closer to the reef, all eyes searched for the light that marked the opening—the only entry to our home. Where was it? . . . The rain slashed at our faces and tore at our eyes—eyes vainly searching for that life-giving light.

Then I heard the chilling sound of the waves crashing and chewing against the reef! It was close—too close. Where was that light? Unless we hit the opening exactly, we would be smashed against the reef and ripped and torn by that thousand-toothed monster. . . .

Some began to whimper, others to moan and cry, and one or two even to scream in hysteria. At the height of this panic when many were pleading to turn to the left or to the right, . . . I looked at the captain—and there I saw the face of calmness, the ageless face of wisdom and experience, as his eyes penetrated the darkness ahead. Quietly his weather-roughened lips parted, and without moving his fixed gaze and just perceptibly shifting the wheel, he breathed those life-giving words, . . . “There is the light!” . . .

I could not see the light, but the captain could see it. And I knew that he could see it. . . . And so with one last great swell we were hurtled through the opening and into calmer waters. . . .

We were in the protected harbor. We were home. . . .

And so the great lesson: There are those who, through years of experience and training, and by virtue of special divine callings, can see farther and better and more clearly—and can and will save us in those situations where serious injury or death—both spiritual and physical—would be upon us before we ourselves could see (in Ensign, Nov. 1976, pp. 44–45).

I bring this up because General Conference will be on this coming weekend. The Prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley, will be speaking. Hope you get a chance to tune in.

PW