Monday, May 6, 2013

Practice, Practice, Practice

Bom dia, minha família maravilhosa (e amigos)!
   This past week was a rough one, but this new week is going to be awesome!  Isn't it great that life has so many fresh starts? New years, new months, new weeks, new days, new hours, new minutes, new seconds. Everything is always new! It's fantastic! You never have to get stuck in the same slump, because every moment is a new page, fresh and white and crisp, just waiting to be written on.
    My testimony of the Lord answering our prayers through other people was strengthened this week when I received a BYU speech by Brad Wilcox enclosed in a letter from my angel mother. I remember her telling me in an email several weeks ago that she was sending me an excellent speech, but, oh, my darling mother, had you any idea at the time how desperately I would need that speech? Had you any inkling of knowledge that the letter would fall into my hands just as I was dangling from the frayed ends of the end of my rope? Did you know that it would be the candle of inspiration during a dark time of doubt? Whether you knew it or not, the Lord knew, and He uses those who are willing to follow the Spirit often without them realizing that they're doing it.
    This speech was entitled "His Grace is Sufficient". When I read the title, I didn't think it was what I was searching for as an answer to my prayers. I'd been weighed down with the burden of my own flaws. It seemed to me that the imperfections were being tossed on my conscience by the shovel-full, every day more. I felt like I was in one of those dreams where you're running as hard as you can but you can't seem to move from where you're at, or like I was trying to swim to the surface of a pool, but no matter how hard or desperately I kicked, the surface glimmered eternally out of my reach.
   Why had the Lord called me to do this work? I found myself wondering. I'm not good at this. I'm not clever enough. I'm not wise enough. I'm not loving enough. I don't speak this language well enough. I don't have enough energy, blah blah blah. And there are precious souls at stake here! Sons and daughters of God are wandering in darkness, counting on me to be in the right place at the right time with the right attitude and the spirituality to do and say the right things. If I fail, I'm costing someone his chance at eternal salvation, peace, and happiness! And I felt that I was failing again and again and again. Finally I started to wonder why I was even trying. The goal was impossible. Why struggle anymore? Why not just surrender and let myself peacefully drown?
    Reading about Christ's grace didn't seem to be the thing I needed, I thought. I don't deserve mercy, said I. The Lord has already been so patient with me and I'm failing Him. I need to be whipped into shape! I need someone to slap me in the face and tell me to try harder! And so I set the grace speech asside and punished myself a little more. I was my own personal drill sergeant and I was sick of my own voice yelling at me.
   Finally, exhausted and helpless, I fell to my knees in fervant prayer for the millionth time. Afterwards, I had to wait for my turn in the shower, and the grace speech was sitting beside my bed. So I begrudgingly picked it up and began to read, sarcastic remarks at the ready in my head.
     I didn't understand grace.
     Maybe being surrounded by crazed Evangelicals all day every day who cry "mercy!" drove me to the extremes of Catholic "justice!" Or maybe I misunderstood what I was taught about being a missionary in the CTM. Whatever the case, I realized that I've been looking at the mission in the wrong light these past 8 months.
     I flattered myself by thinking that I had anything to do with the salvation of these people here-- that if I wasn't perfect, I was robbing them of their chance to hear about the gospel in the way they needed to hear it. Silly me. The Lord knows His children. He knows what they need and He knows when they need it. If little Timmy Brown is ready to hear the message of the restored gospel, the Lord has a million tools in His box  so that Timmy can recieve this message-- internet adds, TV, abandoned pass-along cards, and pamphlets in the street, other members of the church, the chapel itself, etc, etc. If a missionary walks right past Timmy, mistaking his spiritual impression for hunger, he's the one who's missing out. Missing out on the beautiful experience of being the instrument the Lord has chosen to help Timmy. The mission experience is meant to be a blessing for the missionaries and for those with whom they speak!
     As for grace... it's all thanks to the Savior's grace that it's OK that I'm not perfect. He already payed the price necessary for me to be saved. By obeying Him, I'm not repaying Him, I'm THANKING Him! I'm putting His investment in me to good use! Brad Wilcox used the analogy of a mother paying for piano lessons for her child. Because she payed for the lessons, she has the right to demand that the child practice. Will the child's practicing pay the piano teacher? No. Will it repay mom? No. And mom doesn't want to be repaid. She just wants to see her gift put to good use. And when that gift is put to good use, through practice, who is really benefiting from it? The child! And does anyone expect the child to be perfect at playing the piano? Of course not, because he's learning. Mistakes are expected. But if the child lets his mistakes discourage him by thinking that he's no good at the piano or has no skills for it and he gives up, what a sad waste of mom's gift.
    I thought of the scripture in Ether that says "If men come unto me, I will show unto them their weaknesses". How do we come unto the Savior? By practicing. By doing what He asks. We should not expect ourselves to be perfect yet, because, well, no one is. And like the child practicing the piano, during practice he will realize what scales are hard for him. Those are the areas that he needs to practice the most. If he skips over those parts in the music, he's always going to have that weakness. But if he keeps practicing and practicing, eventually those scales will become natural and easy for him.
     I testify that the Lord's power is made perfect in our weaknesses (Corinthians something-or-other), and that He is ever patient with us. He doesn't expect us to be perfect. He just expects us to try, and as long as we're progressing in the right direction, He is pleased with us.
     I'm so grateful for the Savior's atonement, which provides this protected space in which to practice, make mistakes, and improve. We are, little by little, learning how to become as He is.
    I love you all and I promise you that the Lord loves you! Never doubt it, even for a moment!
-Sister Whitaker

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