Sunday, February 21, 2016

Of Grace and the Broken Cord

I think I've always had an independent streak. When my sisters and I were very young, Dad often referred to us as "Little Miss Independence". Usually when we were asserting our right to 'do it myself'. My earliest memories are dim, but there is photographic evidence of my efforts to do more than I was capable of.

 I also remember Dad saying the same about my younger sisters. For the sake of our continued sisterhood, I won't post photographic evidence for them, but I do recall at least one sister stomping her foot, arms folded firmly, "I DO IT!" at about age three. "Ok, Miss Independence!" Dad responded and smiled as he watched her. 

As I grew older, I often preferred doing things myself over asking for help. While seven months pregnant with my oldest son, I rearranged the furniture in our apartment, lifting a heavy bookcase onto the top of a desk by myself. I'll admit to being tired afterwards, but I really thought the 'adoo' made by others over this apparently risky behavior was a little unwarranted. Arms folded stubbornly, I claimed there was nothing wrong with doing it myself.

Sometimes I lack the patience to wait until someone else is available to help. I recently undertook a project of painting my large wood entertainment center. It comes apart, the sliding center shelf is heavy, and I realized I couldn't take the thing apart by myself without risking damage to the TV underneath the shelf. I called two trusty helpers from church who lived nearby, "Hey, Home Teachers!" and they happily hurried right over to assist. 10 minutes and the shelf was dismantled. I was quickly reminded that people love to help when asked, and I was thankful they were available and most wiling to help.

When painting was complete and I was ready to reassemble it, I decided I was independent/strong/stubborn enough to put it back together without help. This involved lifting the long, heavy center shelf with loose inserts up over my head and settling it onto the four small brackets by simultaneously sliding the inserts out towards the sides. I figured the brackets would hold the shelf up until I could secure them to the shelf with screws. I lifted...the inserts both suddenly shifted...and before I knew it, the entire shelf slid down the wall and slammed to the floor behind the cabinet. I had to crawl behind the cabinet to get the shelf out, but it didn't appear there was any lasting damage other than additional distressing on the already distressed paint finish. Good enough!

But then I found damage I wasn't expecting: a broken electrical cord. I'm not sure if the shelf slamming to the floor severed the cord, or if the cord snapped from being stretched tight, but I now held in my hands two parts of the power cord for my stereo speakers. No power, no sound. I sadly realized that if I had just asked for help, the broken cord would still be whole and the speakers would still work. (The music lover in me points out this is a great loss).

What prevents me from asking for help? For me, it's most often impatience...I just want something done NOW and don't want to wait for someone to come to help. Other times, I prefer to work alone because I don't want to work someone else's plan. How stubborn is that? 
Sometimes I overestimate my own strength. I knew I could lift the shelf, I just hoped the sliding boards wouldn't shift. When they did, the shelf crashed to the floor.
And THEN I asked for help. Of course! How many times do I pray for Father to undo a mess I created? 

This is SO like my spiritual self! The Lord willingly offers all that I need and more: "My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness." He promises that I don't have to do it all on my own. And if I ask for help, the Lord is not only eager to help, His Atonement is perfected as he does! Paul's words tumble into my heart, "Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me." Suddenly my weakness is a happy thing, a thing that brings me closer to Christ. I need not be afraid of asking for help. I promise to work at not stamping my foot and insisting on my own way. And as I do, His Grace is sufficient for even that impetuous act. 

Looking at the severed power cord, I think that I could probably fix it myself (I've done a few things like that), but since I am practicing a better way, I unfold my stubbornly crossed arms and resist the urge to stamp my foot. In a sheepish text message, I confessed the broken cord to my son. "Can you fix this?" 
"Probably" he says. The offer of a pizza and game night sweetened the deal, so he brought his family. We played games, we talked, he fixed the cord. The symbolism is not lost on me, a son repairing that which was lost. He was happy to help, even though it caused some strain on his already tired hands. And he gave a warning...if the cord gets warm, it's best to just get a new speaker than risk a fire. Whole power cords are better than repaired ones. 

Our Savior's Love
Shines like the sun with perfect light,
As from above
It breaks thru clouds of strife.
Lighting our way,
It leads us back into his sight,
Where we may stay
To share eternal life.

I understand it now! My limitations are not something to be ashamed of, rather they are the means by which I may become a partaker of His Grace. We cannot save ourselves. And so I will most gladly glory in my infirmities. With His love, I am not afraid of letting others see my weakness. I no longer want to stomp my feet through life, my stubborn nature creating bigger struggles along the way. How much better to leave the power cords whole by asking for a couple of extra hands at times, than to insist on doing it all on my own? 

And so, this morning, I called a friend, “I need your help…..”

Friday, January 1, 2016

Packing Up Christmas

Sometimes I wonder why we do it....all this decorating and hanging of lights. This year it was hard to get started with all the decorating and hanging of lights. Some Grandchildren eager to help decorate the tree made that a happy memory and a new tradition. That started the process that for me takes days to begin. There are over 100 nativities to unpack and arrange. Even with a few that stay out all year long, it takes daayyysss. But soon all the nativites were set up, the lights strung and my heart was ready to celebrate the birth of the Savior. And it was wonderful! How I love the Christmas season. Even when difficult things arise, Christmas reminds me of THE most important and wonderful event ever! 

This year, though, it was truly an effort to put it all away. it wasn’t that I was sad to see the holiday be done (I've felt that before, too), but I just didn't want to go through the effort. For some reason I felt overwhelmed with doing it all by myself and found it difficult to find the motivation. I simply didn't want to do the work. Curling up on the sofa with a good book sounded right...not the ladder climbing, box carrying, wrapping and packing tasks that loomed before me. 

Looking at the half empty boxes of tissue paper and bubble wrap strewn about the family room, I resolved to do it anyway, and discovered a change of heart and understanding in the process. 

I began by gathering the nativities from around the four corners of the house (did I mention 100+? They are everywhere!). As I swept the surfaces of my bedroom, a painting caught my eye- "She Worketh Willingly With Her Hands" by Elspeth Young, a print I had chosen because it reminds me to do the 'work' of my life with a willing heart. I felt a little bit chastened as I realized my grudging packing away of a sacred celebration was quite far removed from willing. What had I just celebrated? honored life and sacrifice made by my Savior, the Child born in Bethlehem. Of course.

And now I felt reluctant to put away the mementos of such a celebration?! Suddenly I recognized the gratitude I felt for such beautiful things to remind me of sacred events.

As I gathered a set of camels carrying wise men, I wondered how it would have been if those scriptural sages had not put forth the effort to make the journey to honor their King? My King? Was I making a true and honest effort to honor Him?

Next I found a well beloved (read: damaged) set of wooden figures. I thought about how I would need to repair some of the damage next year (this has become an annual ritual, the Nativity repair place). But as I held the wooden manger, I thought about how the Savior heals my damage. Suddenly the damage to these few pieces became sacred...He could heal me and I looked forward to healing the carefully carved figures in remembrance. 

In the next room I found the open armed Mary from Peru, welcoming her visitors. I pondered if I was truly welcoming and open armed myself? Yet, as Mary, the Savior welcomes all with open arms and a caring heart. I carefully moved Mary to a permanent place where her loving arms could remind me of this all year long; that I want to have open arms and an open heart and not fear those who might hurt my feelings or act in ways with which I am unfamiliar. 

As I carefully wrapped and packed lovingly handmade figures, many given to me by dear friends and family, I was gently reminded not to pack away their friendships or my love for them. My relationships with those I know and love is important to me, so while I carefully pack the mementos away, I want to remember to create more memories that give these mementos greater meaning next year. I want to find greater joy as I unpack next year and place the keepsakes out for a rejoicing celebration. 

The last item to be packed each year is a large rustic manger lined with raffia hay. The manger is empty- the cloth 'baby' is packed with the nativity costumes. I considered the symbol of this empty manger, as I look forward to the Savior's return to earth again. Am I ready? What is the condition of my heart and how will I feel when He returns? These questions are part of the pondering path I have traveled in preparation for the coming new year. As I place the manger in the shed and close and lock the door, I remind myself that next year when I begin the preparation for Christmas, that empty manger will be the first thing I see. My heart is filled, my soul wants to do all I can to be ready to welcome Him...welcome Him always. 
The tumult and the shouting dies;
The captains and the Kings depart.
Still stands thine ancient sacrifice,
A humble and a contrite heart.

(God of Our Fathers, text by Rudyard Kipling, Hymns, 80)

My heart is lighter now, my rooms a little less crowded with animals and figures bowing in reverence. I never want to forget or pack away the reverence that I've learned and felt this day and this season. How thankful I am for His Divine Love always, and Christmas time in particular! With a humble heart, I turn the page of a New Year and a page in my hymnbook to find words for today: 

Press on, enduring in the ways of Christ.
His love proclaim through days of mortal strife.
Thus saith our God: "Ye have eternal Life!"
Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

(Press Forward, Saints, text by Marvin K. Gardner, Hymns, 81)