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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Hope, Prayer, and a Whole Lot of Duct Tape

Busted Boots

Dear Will:

We were over 20 miles into a 50+ mile backpacking trip though the Golden Trout Wilderness in the High Sierras. With 35-40 pounds on our backs, we had completed the long, relentless slog up and over New Army Pass (12,300 feet) the day before, and somewhere on the backside of Guyot Pass (10,958 feet) my son, Seth, alerted me to a problem. My boot was coming apart.

I stared in disbelief. Clearly, the sole was detaching itself from the body of the boot, which seemed, upon reflection, sub-optimal to my purpose. I had come to climb Mt. Whitney—at 14,505 feet the highest peak in the contiguous United States—and the thought of doing so with half a left boot was untenable. As we tromped on, I kept rechecking the evidence (the way we do), as if on the fifth or eighth or tenth look I might discover that the previous nine had been an illusion. But a couple of dozen rechecks changed nothing. My foot was kaput.

When we set up camp in Upper Crabtree Meadow that evening, I considered my options, but not for long. The next day was Whitney, an all-day, 15-mile roundtrip requiring a 4,000-foot ascent, after which we would still be over 20 miles and three more mountain passes away from the trailhead. The manifest virtues of duct tape and hope (in that order) notwithstanding, the moment for prudence had clearly arrived. I tried to imagine it: Local Hiker Bags Whitney But Loses His Sole. With the welfare and safety of others directly affected by my actions, I just couldn’t take that chance.

There were 19 of us in total, six adults in various stages of middle-aged “fitness” along with 13 boys from 14 to 18 years old. I was by no means the leader of this expedition (outdoor competence being a necessary prerequisite), but I did feel responsible in a kind of paternal, ecclesiastical sense. And then of course there was Seth. Ten years ago I climbed Whitney with my oldest son, Luke, and while I can’t say that I relished the anticipation of the lung-shrinking climb to the summit, I did look forward to that trophy-shot of the two of us, hands on one another’s shoulders, the Sierra mountains stretching out behind us like a giant’s gnarled molars and bicuspids. Alas, it was not to be.

So the next morning the others began their climb to glory while I stayed behind supervising our campsite. I paced. I fidgeted. I fidgeted and paced. Anxiousness turned to worry as I tried to imagine my little group of intrepid alpinists. I knew, for example, that there are lightning showers every afternoon on Whitney, and if you don’t get off of the summit in time you may unwittingly become a Ben Franklin experiment. So you can imagine my state of mind as the hours passed and the afternoon rains came and my climbers were nowhere in sight. I quickly stowed our gear inside the tents, and then, with no other recourse available, I stowed myself inside as well, feeling helpless and useless as I imagined how I might report my experience later. (“How was your trip?” “In tents.”)

Seven hours. Eight hours. Nine hours passed. I lay in my tent, listening to the steady thrump of rain and praying for the safe return of my companions. Of my son. Finally, ten hours after their departure I heard the first voices. They straggled into camp, bedraggled and exhausted. Finally, over 11 hours after their 7am departure, the last of our group stumbled into camp.  I felt a surge of emotion that surprised me. We were safe. Together. At last.

I do not wish to overstate the significance of this experience for me. But I can tell you truthfully that what I felt that afternoon is not that different from the longing for togetherness—for homecoming—that I feel for you and every other member of the Santiago Creek Ward. I wait. Hoping to hear your voice. Praying for your safe return.

PW

How Things Work When They Don’t

antique-vacuum

Dear Will:

When it comes to home maintenance and repairs, I’m what they call in the trades Really Bad At It, or Utterly Useless, for short. You might recall, for example, how I somehow managed to destroy a fairly-new reverse-osmosis system while trying to fix a small leak under the kitchen sink. I could fill this page with other humiliating examples of my ineptitude, but let’s skip over that formality and go directly to this week’s confession: I’ve done it again. The legend continues.

As always, it started out innocently enough: I was simply trying to do a little vacuuming—a low-skill assignment for which even I am qualified. I might even go so far as to claim a certain degree of competence in the field of Automated Dust Removal. But as I was maneuvering out into the upstairs hallway, I became aware that the family Hoover was no longer Hooving. “This thing sucks,” I hollered at my wife, Dana. “It’s supposed to,” she offered cheerfully. “It’s a vacuum cleaner.”

Diagnosing that there must be something obstructing the brush mechanism, I set about disassembling the intake unit. I figured I just had to remove a couple of screws, clear out the obstruction, and put the thing back together. I can work a screwdriver, I thought. How hard can it be? Right? Well, more than a dozen screws later, I finally had it opened.

It took me little time to clean out the brush and intake, but getting the base to snap back into place proved a little trickier—especially when I discovered that a small, metal bracket had joined the loose screws scattered about me. I knew where the bracket belonged, but getting it back into place appeared to defy several physical laws while tenaciously affirming the Second Law of Thermodynamics. Soon I looked like Jim wrestling a crocodile on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. And the croc was winning.

Well, of course I never got the thing back together (see: Thermodynamics, Second Law). Within an hour Dana and I were standing in the aisle at Costco pursuing the only sort of appliance repair that works consistently for me. And then, as fitting punctuation to an evening squandered, we spent most of the time at Costco fingering her iPad and ordering a new vacuum from Amazon instead.

The new machine (not a crocodile, but a Shark®) arrived a couple of days later. Seth offered to take Sharknado out on its maiden run, and when he was done we were shocked to see how much gunk it had managed to collect. Walking around the house afterward, we noted how different the carpet felt—like it was brand new. Hmmm. (Let that thought swirl around your head for a little bit.)

So it turns out the old Hoover really did suck, but unfortunately not in the manner that it was supposed to. Who knows how much grime has been accumulating over the past many months, or how long, for that matter, we had been shuffling around in it? Ewww. So in the end, my failed repair work may have been the best thing that has happened to our carpet since it was installed.

And thus emerges the familiar pattern in another embarrassing tale: Something goes wrong, and in my attempts to make it better I make it much, much worse. But in the end—somehow—I end up far better off than I could ever have been had disaster not struck to begin with. Happens all the time. I’m pretty sure Paul wasn’t thinking about carpet cleaning when he said that “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Romans 8:28), but on the other hand, isn’t it curious how much good comes from the bad stuff we unintentionally make worse? Interesting how that works. Carpet Diem!

PW