Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Maple Syrup Man


So transfers came... and I'm training for my last transfer!!! I could not be happier. Sad news is my companion will hit the big transfer and is going home, and Elder Dudley's leaving Charlottetown for New Glasgow:(

Quote of the week--Elder Dudley, sarcastically on the phone, telling us to listen to him:

"Sisters! Shh. Did you know that you can spell 'listen' out of 'silence'?"

Needless to say, there was an awkward pause while he figured it out. Hahaha.

This week, Vanessa decided not to be baptized. It was a shock and really, really hard. She was the only person we were teaching. She's moved cities to a city that now has no missionaries (one of my previous areas). We have been heartbroken and praying like crazy. It was kind of rough.

So I was thinking about what I'd say today, but my mind's been really occupied with one story that I can't get off my mind. This is an experience I had several weeks ago. And to make it fun we'll put it in story form:)

One day, in late August, as the sun moved and its intensity began to fade at the end of the afternoon, two girls in skirts walked out of a house and began a walk towards their city's small downtown, stopping to talk to maritimers as they went.

Their attention was quickly drawn, however, to a jumble of impatient cars in the middle of the street they were walking on. As they walked closer, they saw the reason for the honking, swerving, and exasperated sighing coming from the drivers of those cars. A large, white delivery truck was pulled over, taking up half the road in the middle of rush hour traffic, lights signaling its driver was in an emergency.

The two girls in skirts continued their curious trek down the sidewalk until they passed the delivery truck and could see the emergency on the ground behind it: a puddle of amber liquid sat in the middle of the lane, covering 6 square feet of the road. The two girls stopped and looked around for the driver who had spilled the oil.

A whistling man rounded the corner of the truck and gave the girls in skirts a wave and a nod of the head. The girls watched the cheerful man, who showed such a contrast to the chaos of the traffic around him, squeeze some brown liquid out of a T-shirt into a tall white bucket on the ground.

"I'd shake your hands, girls, but mine are all sticky," he said.

"Is it oil?" asked one of the girls.

The man shook his head and bent over, putting the T-shirt in the puddle again.

"Here, smell," he said. The girls bent their noses to the ground. No, not oil--something sweet.

"Maple syrup!" said the man. "I was delivering a few buckets to that hotel but I dropped this one on my way out." He wrung the T-shirt out in the almost-empty bucket. "You're the first people to stop."

"Can we help you at all?" offered one girl.

The Maple Syrup Man shook his head and took a break from mopping up maple syrup to get a good look at the girls. "I already called for help."

"When's the help coming?" one girl asked.

The man smiled at them and went back to mopping up maple syrup with the T-shirt. "Not sure. I called half an hour ago and it could be another hour or two before I get help." This  time as he rung the T-shirt out, he nicked the back of his leg on the truck's ramp and barely noticed blood dripping down the back of his leg. The jolly man began asking the girls questions about themselves, the frustrated honks and even yells around him not seeming to damper his mood.

But one of the girls--the one with curly hair--wasn't paying much attention to the conversation. Concentrating, she quietly surveyed the puddle of maple syrup in the road, which was not getting any smaller, bless the man's heart. She watched the cars drive by, which were all depending on the man and his maple syrup puddle and his truck to get out of the way. She thought of the man's boss who hadn't been happy to hear that his employee spilled several litres of maple syrup in the middle of the road and who would be late in filling the rest of his deliveries. The girl with curly hair looked back at the happy man.

"Why are you happy right now?" she asked him, curious. He stood up from his tedious mopping job and looked her straight in the eyes, always smiling.

"I'm happy," the man said, "because the only thing that can make a situation a bad one is a sour attitude."

The girl with curly hair looked at the man's hands, covered in maple syrup, and his sticky clothes, and his socks and shoes covered in it, and his calm and sure smile in the midst of it, hardly noticing the gash in his leg. She looked at the puddle that wasn't getting any smaller.

"Sir," she laughed, incredulous, "You don't even know when help is coming!"

"Young lady," he said to the girl, "I am just a beggar. It is not my choice how fast the help comes."

The two girls laughed and talked with the man for a moment longer, helping him spend his time until his help came. Eventually the girls had another obligation and left. However, an hour later, they walked by again and saw that help had come. A team of men was quickly and methodically cleaning up the puddle of maple syrup with salt. They watched the Maple Syrup Man watching them on the side, proudly and gratefully accepting the help that came so late.

I haven't been able to get this story out of my mind the last several weeks. After it happened, I kept thinking about it, over and over again. I felt like there was something Heavenly Father wanted me to learn from that experience that I wasn't quite getting. This week I knelt down and prayed earnestly to be able to learn the things the Lord wanted me to from that experience. I offer three lessons I've learned through a lot of studying, thought, and prayer:

1. Heavenly Father believes in agency. He believes in giving us choices. And because of that, He gives us experiences that can be good or bad--but it is completely dependent on our choice. The Maple Syrup Man could have had an awful experience when he spilled the huge bucket all over the road. He'd be late, his job would be in jeopardy, he was holding up traffic, he was covered from head to foot in maple syrup in the heat of August, he had a huge gash on his leg from trying to help the situation, and oh how inconsiderate his help was! They made him wait for hours, and no one else stopped to help him. It could have been a really negative experience. But it wasn't because he used his God-given agency to make it a positive experience. I'm thinking in particular of some experiences my parents were given that could be taken as inherently negative. But instead my parents chose to be faithful and optimistic and all the experiences were great. Heavenly Father believes in agency and I testify that it is our choice how many positive and negative experiences we have.

2. We have a finite perspective of trials. We want help NOW because things are hard NOW and why won't the Lord send help NOW--doesn't He understand that if I don't get it NOW, I won't make it?? One of my district leaders said it well: "We live in a world where everything is immediate. There is no waiting and hardly any working for what we want. This is not God's way. Though the things you want are righteous, the place you go wrong is wanting it right now... There is no need to be discouraged when we are obedient because when we are obedient, we are in God's hands." How many times have you needed help, and you had been doing everything you were supposed to--scripture study, prayer, attending church, keeping commandments--and help was not coming? We are the beggars, and I testify that the Lord always knows exactly when to send help. He has a plan that's greater for us than what we have for ourselves. As Lehi taught, "All things have been done in the wisdom of Him who knoweth all things."

3. Until the help does come... help yourself! When I decided to serve a mission, I basically thought it would be smooth sailing from that moment until 2 years later when my mission would end because I was doing the Lord's work! But I found out quickly how wrong I was. The moment I got my mission call and knew where the Lord wanted me and when, things became very difficult. I had a really hard time feeling the Spirit or Heavenly Father's presence at all for several months, and I felt like I was barely hanging on the whole time. I did the things I was supposed to--specifically scripture study and prayer--but it wasn't making a difference, and the blessings were coming very late. It was like that until finally I went through the temple and immediately everything completely changed--did a full 180. I felt like my efforts in those few months were a waste. They were imperfect, small offerings. But I can't get the image out of my head of the Maple Syrup Man slaving away over that monstrous puddle of maple syrup, trying to soak it up with a T-shirt and making absolutely no visible difference. NONE. But he did it faithfully until a more perfect help could come and get it cleaned up in a matter of seconds. I find it interesting that the Lord wants us to work and do a sloppy, imperfect job first, before He does it for us--and He has the power to fix it from the beginning! The Lord accepts our weak offerings and THEN sends us help.

I just want to write out a story one of my old companions just sent me in the mail. I became very close to this companion and her story means a whole lot to me:

"My last zone conference was good. A few days before, I had a cool experience. I was just feeling discouraged about my mission and it was like all I could see were all the times I didn't do my best. I realized I was never going to be able to give the Lord a perfect offering, and so I prayed, so heart-broken, to ask the Lord if He could accept my imperfect offering instead. I somehow developed the trust to not be afraid of the answer and to just listen to whatever it was. Suddenly, in my mind's eye, I could see it from His point of view. I saw myself as a little 3-year-old, running up to my daddy with a picture I drew for Him. The 3-year-old had no thought in her mind of the picture not being good enough, despite the fact that it was mostly just lines and scribbles on a crumpled piece of paper; she was just happy and excited to show her daddy what she had made for him, because she loved him. The father didn't condemn her for the imperfections in her picture, pointing out its many flaws and inaccuracies. It would be unreasonable to do so, or to expect more, given a 3-year-old's level of development. Neither was the father secretly dissatisfied that his 3-year-old had only produced a 3-year-old piece of art. He was genuinely happy and felt loved to receive the picture. And so my 'Daddy' scooped me up in His arms, gave me a big hug and told me He loved me, and somehow hung the picture on His Celestial Refrigerator despite the facet that He used a magnet on stainless steel. And so I knew that the Lord was happy and accepting of my imperfect offering."

Anyway, end rant:)


Sister Lewis

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