Thursday, October 17, 2013

Pick-Up Sticks

The second principle of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is repentance, or change to align our will with our Heavenly Father's. Repentance, of course, entails discontinuing sins or wrong choices that we may be making, but also includes improvement, progression, and change. Repentance was explained to me by a wonderful woman, living in Concord, North Carolina. We will call her Lori.

One Thursday in June, a powerful storm swept through the Charlotte area. My missionary duty was in Concord at that time and my missionary companion and I gaped as we went out the morning afterward. Traffic lights were out, power lines were down, but mostly trees -- tall, wide, and otherwise -- had fallen and split everywhere we looked. Some had even fallen on houses, making them not just unfit, but downright dangerous for habitation. The effects could not be cleaned up overnight, so the Saturday after the storm, my companion and I decided to help. Although we were dressed in what we call our 'proselyting clothes' (skirts and dress shoes), we walked up and down neighborhoods, asking if we could help. No one, of course, would allow us to. We were just two girls in skirts and flats. How much could we help anyway? Especially with those huge purses. And what was up with the blue books and name tags?

Finally, after hours of not helping, frustrated at being denied the chance to do manual labor, we drove to another part of town and, seeing a middle-aged woman picking up sticks in her yard, parked, prayed, and purposefully stepped out of the car. She would allow us to help her.

We walked right up to her and said, "Hello! We see you are cleaning up sticks from the storm. So are you just putting them over there in that pile?" And then we started picking up branches, sticks, and twigs that had fallen because of the storm. Sometimes it is better not to ask for permission.

We ended up spending over an hour with that woman, who was, indeed, Lori. She was very sweet and talkative. She asked us all sorts of questions about our missionary work. She was a devoted Christian and her daughters actually had a few Latter-day Saint friends who had served missions like us. After picking up most of the sticks, she invited us in for a water break. We continued our wonderful conversation and talked all about family and how Christ helps us stay on track. We could not have felt more at home. This led to another visit about a week later, in which we invited a member of our congregation to join us.

The member we brought and Lori hit it off at once. We talked a lot about our purpose in this life, which is to learn, grow, and progress, and more about families. We talked about how difficult it can sometimes be to change, and also that often times change, or repentance, is not so much not sinning, but many times improving ourselves. "It's a lot like picking up the sticks from the storm," she said. "Once you pick up the big branches, you start seeing the smaller sticks and then you can pick those up, but you don't really see the small twigs until you've dealt with the big branches."

What a beautifully simple way to illustrate the journey of our lives. Many of us do have big branches that we need to dispose of, and the Atonement of Jesus Christ allows us to be forgiven of those things. But many of us don't have an inclination to commit big sins. We've taken care of the large sticks, so now our job is to recognize those small twigs, and work on picking all of those up.

Repentance is a life-long process. Recognizing sin and striving to change, asking for forgiveness for our shortcomings, and recognizing that the Savior is the only one who can save us is critical to following the path that Christ has set for us.  What a blessing that we have this knowledge, so that we can transform into the person our Heavenly Father knows we an be. 

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