Monday, September 22, 2014

21 - A Full Week

Here are the pictures from the zoo as promised! Just a few of the good shots I got.


Come Here, Plant! Let Me Eat You!
This bear was trying to eat the plant that was growing outside the cage! Haha. So glad I could capture that moment!

"And if you look to your left, you will see the Sister Missionaries. They used to be an endangered species, but the population has increased exponentially over the past year or so. Rather peculiar creatures."

Yes, it was great fun. But wow, this week was a long week. And a lot of things happened in retrospect. The zoo seemed like such a long time ago. 

This week was long because all of the lessons that we taught basically happened in the first half of the week. The second half was pretty rough. No scheduled appointments like... at all. And that is when the days and the weeks grow very long. But, we had some actually great times this week. Like dinner on Wednesday!

Making a Pizza...What's it gonna be?
Now That's a Monster of a Pizza!

A well-cooked Ghost. :-)
That's right! We made pizza! 

And psh, if you're making your own pizza, how can you 'not' make it the stereotypical circle!? 

It's only natural that I would make a little Pacman ghost.

NOM! Eat Your Heart Out, Packman!
Isn't it cute!?

AND delicious! 

Just the way I like it. haha.

That dinner was especially fun though because it was with two girls our age in the ward, both nineteen and twenty, around there, and it just felt like we were having a great night of fun. 

We had a super spiritual lesson afterward sharing Mosiah 3:19 and talking about the good attributes of a child and how we can strive to emulate those to be closer to our savior, more loving, not judgmental, close to the spirit, and the testimonies that these two girls have, it was just, it was so powerful and seriously, there is a special thing about interacting with people your own age and, just, yeah, it was one of the best nights ever.

Yummy GREEN apples...ripened and sweet!
Also this week, this lady let us pick some of her apples, cuz she wasn't really using them this year. And you know what they taste like? I was hungry, so I ate one as soon as we were back in the car and they were awesome, and I realized they tasted like green apples, even though they were red. And apparently, they are green apples I learned, just over ripe. They especially turn more red after a frost. They are a little on the dry side, courtesy of them being over ripe, but they were also slightly sweeter because of it as well. They were/are so good!

Also, Sister Gray and I both spoke in church on Sunday! Sister Gray spoke on how to study the scriptures. I spoke on the importance of sharing the gospel with everyone and not judging others. For my talk, I shared an experience from working at the gas station. We had just gotten a new hire, and this new coworker happened to be someone I knew from high school. I talked about how I didn't think he was receptive to the gospel, but the missionaries like, TOLD me that I should ask him about taking the lessons, and I did and he said yes. 

There's a lot more to this story, but the moral is, invite people, you never know if they will say 'yes'. Don't prejudge thinking they aren't receptive. And, these people are around us everyday. Sharing the gospel with everyone is so important because you don't know all the time who God is putting in your path until they have already been put there. God helps others learn of the gospel through us. Members are missionaries, really, more than missionaries are missionaries. 

I'm glad I was able to give this talk to the ward. I got a lot of compliments afterward.

And to one of the main events of this week -- A very long and hard and windy day.

And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things (Moroni 10:5).

Sister Gray and I looked out the window on Saturday and we knew that it was going to be windy all day. Saturdays... They are hard because if you don't have anything scheduled on Saturdays, you have NOTHING set in stone. We do service at the library on Wednesday. Service at the Thrift Store Friday. We go on splits on Tuesday. We have absolutely nothing we regularly do on Saturday, except for meet at the church at 8 at night for making a progress record to discuss with the ward leaders on Sunday morning about the investigators that need fellowshipping, etc.

Sigh. We were ready to go. I said a prayer in the doorway before I left.

"Dear Heavenly Father. Please bless that as we go out today that we will have the spirit to be with us and be safe as we go out today. ...Heavenly Father, please bless that we will be able to teach a lesson today...."

As I said these words, an impression came to Sister Gray's mind, but she... hoped it was just negative thinking.

We went out. It was SO.. windy. Saturdays. ...Why is that? Saturdays and Mondays. They are always the windy ones. Never is it windy on Wednesday. Wind is in general very exhausting. You don't realize if you're not out walking in it all day, but man, I was just plodding, stairs were a struggle, I felt so sluggish. ...Sigh, why didn't we have anything set today... why wouldn't anyone let us in....

Around 4:00, we were sitting in the car just... beat, and Sister Gray said,

"Can I share something?"
"When you said your prayer this morning, before we left the apartment... you asked if we would be able to get in an teach a lesson. I heard in my mind just the answer of  'no.'"
"...Which sucks, because we still have to go out and work anyway..."
"....yeah... ...Man... that does suck..."

We went back to the apartment for dinner and then to top it all off, another investigator that we had some hopes for dropped us. ...I was exhausted and I went to lay down for a nap during dinner hour. I could hear the nose blows from the other room. The product of tears... After I had rested (I never feel that tired... the wind was a killer), I went to Sister Gray and we hugged each other. But she, even throughout this hard hard time, she maintains the perspective that she is going through the refiners fire, and it sucks, but that's the way it is.

As the Lord prompted, we didn't teach a lesson that day.  But at the end of the night she expressed to me:

"It is kind of a backhanded answer. But I'm glad that I did get an answer. Because I'd rather know than not know, even if the truth is hard. And I'd rather know that he's listening."

It was a unique experience, something that you can learn a lot from, this particular answer to this particular prayer.  Things are difficult, but things will get better. I have full faith of that. You'll see when I write next week.

P.S. So, it's weird because last week it was pretty cold, but this week it warmed back up a bit. And I'm not complaining! It was in the low 70's high 60's. But the fall trees are still going to be loosing their leaves for winter before we know it.

P.S.S. This little baby arrived in Bismarck the day I did, April 29th. Look how much we've grown! haha.

P.S.S.S. I found out this week that my oldest brother has been called as THE CHOIR DIRECTOR FOR THE YOUNG SINGLE ADULT WARD! AHHHH! I'M SO EXCITED FOR HIM!!!! Just thought I'd share that with the world.

Monday, September 15, 2014

20 - Missionary Life Goes On

Some funny things happened this week. One of which is totally a testament that our Heavenly Father loves us, and has a sense of humor too.

This Monday and Tuesday Sister Christiansen was away in Rapid City at the missionary doing Sister Training leader stuff. All the Sister Training leaders and Zone leaders go to the mission home almost every month to be trained my President and Sister Anderson, and then they come back to their area and each zone gives a training meeting. Yeah, mission terminology and happenings are really confusing unless you've been on a mission where you have to learn how things work, BUT needless to say, Sister Christensen was NOT here in Bismark during Monday and Tuesday, but her companion Sister Taylor was. And of course, what happens when there's a companionless sister? TRIO! I've been in a lot of trios. What with the past three weeks as well as past MLCs (Missionary Leadership Conference, and the reason the zone and sister training leaders go to Rapid almost every month).

So Monday, P-day with Sister Gray and Sister Taylor. We took forever at the store, I don't even know what took so long. You know how errands go. And Sister Taylor. needed. a new bag. It needed to happen. But she is very particular about bags. This is a very important detail of this story.

We tried the thrift store, which has Target overstock, which is where I got my bag, which she likes my bag. But no luck. We tried K-Mart because we were already there. We tried Walmart. Nothin'. So we found where Target was. A little bit further away than I thought, but it's all good. It was inside the mall here, or one of the malls here, and Sister Taylor was in awe... she hadn't been in a mall in 15 months! But we were very disciplined and went straight to Target and made a beeline for the purses.

She picked one up and put it on.
"Where's a mirror? I need a mirror. I know it's silly! But I have to see how it looks!"
Found a mirror and she looked at it..."
"I wish it wasn't brown..."
"But my bag's brown.." I said.
Sister Taylor and her New Bag
"But yours is a cute brown, not a yellow orange gross color."
...I don't know mine's a little yellow but... if you say so Sister Taylor haha.
"And it's too rectangle... Sorry! I'm so picky, I know it."

We just laughed. It was so funny, just, this purse, that purse, pros cons, "is this one me?" "Yeah, it's you?" "Do you really think so?" "Well, it is now, you're buying it!"

It was done. She chose the brown bag and we were on our way out of the store, walking through the mall when..

"*SNAP* !!! What!? Are you kidding me??"
She had broken the pocket of the purse!
"That's so deceiving! It looks like a snap, but it... it doesn't even zip! It's not even a pocket!... that's so deceiving..."
We were just laughing hahaha. So we walked back to return it, and she chose a different purse that she ended up liking a lot better.
"See, Heavenly Father KNEW that you wouldn't be satisfied with that other bag, so he made you break it so you would get the other one!" I said. Cuz I mean, it's true! hahaha.
"Heavenly Father's the greatest dad!" said Sister Taylor as we all laughed.

The other funny thing that happened isn't spiritual at all, but sometimes when you get Sister Gray laughing it sounds like she's crying slightly, one of those laughs. It's not too extreme, but it's enough to say during a dinner appointment, "look, you made her laugh so hard she's crying!" and I didn't know if it would work, but I decided it was worth a shot... I dabbed my finger in my cup of water and flicked the drop hoping that it would land on her cheek and IT DID! Her eyes widened as she continued to laugh and it TOTALLY looked like a tear! We were busting up laughing! hahahaha it was so funny. It was awesome.

Something cool this week, we did service.... in the temple! The temple here is closed for two weeks for cleaning, so we got to help clean the temple! It was really neat. Sister Taylor got the best job ever. She cleaned the font. And girls? Word to the wise, don't where makeup when you go to the temple to do baptisms. There was all this black stuff by the drain from all the mascara that comes off when you go under the water. So, keep that in mind. Sister Gray and I just cleaned the changing rooms real good. And afterward, we were shown by one of the other adults there some of the paintings in the temple and he was explaining about them. It was super spiritual.

We also helped a lady move. That's one of the number one service activities you do as a missionary. Ask anyone. And usually it's just throwing things in boxes with no order at all. At least, that's been my experience.

Something else that was cooler waaaas the weather on Wednesday night. And in general this week, but mostly Wednesday night. It was in the 40s? low 40s? And it was very wet. It wasn't raining too bad, mostly just a mist which is like, foreign in Arizona. It did remind me a bit of Flagstaff though. I am so glad I had my p-coat which I bought at the thrift store two days before. It made it comfortable and refreshing to walk in when it would have been a bit too cold otherwise. We used Wednesday night as an opportunity to just walk, trying people around the apartment, not using the car for a bit. I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of a nice winter walk. After planning that night I made myself some hot chocolate. And I felt like I was staying up late, because I was up drinking my hot chocolate by myself because everyone had decided to go to bed early. It made me chuckle inside a little.

Sister Gray is still trying to get in the swing of what this area throws at you. One of our investigators dropped us again, this time because her mother didn't want her learning, and this investigator was fifteen, so there was nothing we could do. I... unfortunately have grown used to that for better or worse. Sister Gray was crushed, poor thing. I reassured her that things would work out for the best, that God has a plan for her to be successful and we did our part. Tracting is also daunting to her. It's pretty hard when you have a completely empty Saturday because of people being sick or out of town and having nothing to look forward too but tracting. She finds no joy in it. I myself struggle to break up the monotony of tracting... I'm praying for inspiration. I have faith that this week we with have an experience that will benefit us both.

We've been trying to meet more members too. With one family we ended up staying a little bit longer than we planned and we were talking about pretty deep doctrine concerning the preexistance. It was really nice because as a missionary, people think you are a spiritual power house, and you are, but you can't talk about deep doctrine except with members. I can't tell you how happy I was to be at church my first few weeks because I didn't have to be the 'teacher' while I was there, that we could converse easily with out confusing people out of their mind. So it was really therapeutic.

Something else that will be therapeutic, we're going to go to the zoo today after emailing! I'll send you pictures next week!

P.S. I had fun decorating my envelopes this week. 

Civil war stamps and quotes are awesome. 

Joseph Smith even prophecies about the Civil war, did you know that? D&C 87:1,4

P.S.S. It's Halloween Time in the stores! And in someone's yard who does a haunted house every year!
Halloween In The Stores
Halloween In The Neighborhood

Monday, September 8, 2014

19 - My New Companion

Welcome to Bismarck, Sister Gray!
Guess what!? I have a companion again! Sister Gray. We get along great. You wanna know why? It's because we both play the trombone. True story. Sister Gray has a punny sense of humor. She doesn't enunciate very clearly, but that's ok, it just gives my brain more of a workout for when she says a sentence and then my brain has to go back and insert the words which belong by the context of the words I did catch. It's good exercise. Best thing is though that she just wants to just get out and work. I'm sooooo glad I'm not training a new missionary because I have so much to learn still myself. I can feel that this companionship is truly inspired and things will just run as smooth as they can as long as we just keep on striving to help each other be exactly obedient.

But poor Sister Gray, she got here just in time for the mosquito ambush. See, here, in North Dakota, we actually have normal seasons. And I've found that mosquitoes usually emerge when the season is changing. They were bad right before summer and they are REALLY bad right now! Our positive thought about the little blood suckers is that... well... at least it's not negative thirty.

Man... transfers are crazy. It was so hectic trying to get all our laundry washed, stuff packed, things bought, mail sent, rooms cleaned, and goodbyes said. Poor Sister Springer stayed up nearly all night packing. Studies in the morning? Yeah, I just read aloud while the sisters cleaned and finished packing Sister Springer's stuff. Goodbyes weren't nearly as tearful as when Sister Easter left, but they were sad nonetheless. 
The Trefethens

Sister Trefethen

Brother Trefethen

The saddest goodbye was probably with Sister Trefethen. We relied on the Trefethen's soooo much in putting together the musical fireside. It wouldn't have been what it was without them. And we've been able to help her out in times of need too when she's just needed a shoulder to cry on. The spirit is so strong in their home and she reminds me of a mother hen. (a mother Trafeth-hen in fact!) We were always coming over and bless her heart, Sister Trefethen would always be asking us if we'd had anything to eat yet and would make us food. And she is such a master of presentation. We became the little triplets and it was really hard knowing that relationship between us and them would have to end. It was really quite emotional... and Sister Springer expressed after our last night of dinner that she wanted to see Sister Trefethen one last time for one last hug... There just wasn't enough time though... We had too much to do the next day.

But... Heavenly Father shows us such tender mercies, we were getting out of the car to mail a box of Sister Springer's extra stuff at the post office and who is stopping on the same street!? Sister Trefethen! ooooooh! We were so happy to see her. We flocked out of the car and were able to give her one last hug! All because she just happened to be meeting someone for lunch right across the street from the post office. I promise you, that was a tender mercy. Not a coincidence.

And like I said earlier, it's not a coincidence that Sister Gray is my companion now. And it's not a coincidence that I just happened to be involved in an emergency transfer where I had to adapt to a lot of change and be forced to take the reigns of my area in a unique way. Everything that has happened has been inspired and has helped me grow, and this change will help Sister Gray grow. It's been hard for her, leaving her first area and coming to an area that still needs to be built up, but I know it will help her in all the right ways. I feel so blessed to be able to see how Heavenly Father is giving us the opportunity to grow, because so many times you can't see the forest in the middle of the trees, so to speak. But it is evident to me that we both need each other. 

Sister Christiansen
I am glad to be back in the apartment I was originally living in though. It's like coming home. And I'm glad to be living with Sister Christiansen again. See, she's the Sister training leader, and her responsibility is to basically look out for the sisters in the zone, which are usually about  six to ten sisters. I love 'living' with the sister training leader. Not being companions with her, because then it wouldn't feel like you had a special go to person. It's so special to talk to her face to face instead of having to just call her, like all the other sisters in the zone have to do. When you live with your Sister Training Leader you can build that personal connection with her that you just don't have over the phone. And you see her everyday, giving her the opportunity to always be asking you how your day was, which could be taken as annoying or, more appropriately, as comforting and just, yes. I love living with the sister training leader. I missed it during the three weeks that I didn't. I'm so spoiled in this area! Living with the sister training leader, having a car that we don't have to share, not having to travel a lot for zone conferences and such because they're all right here, having the TEMPLE!? Yeah. I'm spoiled. 

But, OH! I'm just so excited for the happenings and growth which will happen in this next six weeks! Just throwing it out there.

P.S. Proof that Sister Gray and Sister Sanderson are trombone players.

The "mark" of a trombonist
Now, that's an embouchure!

How Many Missionaries Does It Take to Change a Light Bulb?!?!

Oh, PSS, this is a picture of everyone lifting up the light after changing the light bulb. Doesn't it remind you of that one picture of the Americans hoisting the flag? Awesome.

Monday, September 1, 2014

18 - The Parable of the Piano Player

A Musical Fireside. :-)
We have been planning, a LOT, for a musical fireside which happened this past Sunday! It takes a ton of time to plan these things. We worked so hard on it. It was so spectacular though. Prior to the fireside we all got sick. So we didn't get a ton of work done this week. But the fireside was awesome! Worth the planning put into it which this picture captures perfectly.
Okay...What's after the opening prayer? 

Not a whole lot to report on this week due to illness. All three of us got sick. Bad head colds. Oh, but, I am getting a new companion, so that's exciting. She'll come to Bismark tomorrow, Sister Gray is her name. She came out just before me apparently.

Sister Paniagua is training a new missionary, Sister Anderson, and Sister Springer is getting transferred to Bemiji, Minnesota and is training a new missionary there, Sister Park, AND is pinkwashing, or, replacing a set of elders. So that's the changes that are happening.

But, to end this email, this talk is just so brilliant that it is deserving of being on my blog as an entry, not as just a link. It has helped me understand how the atonement works and how inspired change is wrought, and how grace works. 

His Grace Is Sufficient
Brad Wilcox

I am grateful to be here with my wife, Debi, and my two youngest children—who are currently attending BYU—and several other family members who have come to be with us.It is an honor to be invited to speak to you today. Several years ago I received an invitation to speak at Women's Conference. When I told my wife, she asked, "What have they asked you to speak on?"I was so excited that I got my words mixed up and said, "They want me to speak about changing strengths into weaknesses."
She thought for a minute and said, "Well, they've got the right man for the job!"
She's correct about that. I could give a whale of a talk on that subject, but I think today I had better go back to the original topic and speak about changing weaknesses into strengths and about how the grace of Jesus Christ is sufficient (see Ether 12:27, D&C 17:8, 2 Corinthians 12:9)—sufficient to cover us, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes.

Christ's Grace Is Sufficient to Cover Us

A BYU student once came to me and asked if we could talk. I said, "Of course. How can I help you?"

She said, "I just don't get grace."

I responded, "What is it that you don't understand?"
She said, "I know I need to do my best and then Jesus does the rest, but I can't even do my best."
She then went on to tell me all the things she should be doing because she's a Mormon that she wasn't doing.
She continued, "I know that I have to do my part and then Jesus makes up the difference and fills the gap that stands between my part and perfection. But who fills the gap that stands between where I am now and my part?"
She then went on to tell me all the things that she shouldn't be doing because she's a Mormon, but she was doing them anyway.
Finally I said, "Jesus doesn't make up the difference. Jesus makesall the difference. Grace is not about filling gaps. It is about filling us."
Seeing that she was still confused, I took a piece of paper and drew two dots—one at the top representing God and one at the bottom representing us. I then said, "Go ahead. Draw the line. How much is our part? How much is Christ's part?"
She went right to the center of the page and began to draw a line. Then, considering what we had been speaking about, she went to the bottom of the page and drew a line just above the bottom dot.
I said, "Wrong."
She said, "I knew it was higher. I should have just drawn it, because I knew it."
I said, "No. The truth is, there is no line. Jesus filled the whole space. He paid our debt in full. He didn't pay it all except for a few coins. He paid it all. It is finished."
She said, "Right! Like I don't have to do anything?"
"Oh no," I said, "you have plenty to do, but it is not to fill that gap. We will all be resurrected. We will all go back to God's presence. What is left to be determined by our obedience is what kind of body we plan on being resurrected with and how comfortable we plan to be in God's presence and how long we plan to stay there."
Christ asks us to show faith in Him, repent, make and keep covenants, receive the Holy Ghost, and endure to the end. By complying, we are not paying the demands of justice—not even the smallest part. Instead, we are showing appreciation for what Jesus Christ did by using it to live a life like His. Justice requires immediate perfection or a punishment when we fall short. Because Jesus took that punishment, He can offer us the chance for ultimate perfection (see Matthew 5:48, 3 Nephi 12:48) and help us reach that goal. He can forgive what justice never could, and He can turn to us now with His own set of requirements (see 2 Nephi 2:7; 3 Nephi 9:20).
"So what's the difference?" the girl asked. "Whether our efforts are required by justice or by Jesus, they are still required."
"True," I said, "but they are required for a different purpose. Fulfilling Christ's requirements is like paying a mortgage instead of rent or like making deposits in a savings account instead of paying off debt. You still have to hand it over every month, but it is for a totally different reason."

Christ's Grace Is Sufficient to Transform Us

Christ's arrangement with us is similar to a mom providing music lessons for her child. Mom pays the piano teacher. How many know what I am talking about? Because Mom pays the debt in full, she can turn to her child and ask for something. What is it? Practice! Does the child's practice pay the piano teacher? No. Does the child's practice repay Mom for paying the piano teacher? No. Practicing is how the child shows appreciation for Mom's incredible gift. It is how he takes advantage of the amazing opportunity Mom is giving him to live his life at a higher level. Mom's joy is found not in getting repaid but in seeing her gift used—seeing her child improve. And so she continues to call for practice, practice, practice.
If the child sees Mom's requirement of practice as being too overbearing ("Gosh, Mom, why do I need to practice? None of the other kids have to practice! I'm just going to be a professional baseball player anyway!"), perhaps it is because he doesn't yet see with mom's eyes. He doesn't see how much better his life could be if he would choose to live on a higher plane.
In the same way, because Jesus has paid justice, He can now turn to us and say, "Follow me" (Matthew 4:19), "Keep my commandments" (John 14:15). If we see His requirements as being way too much to ask ("Gosh! None of the other Christians have to pay tithing! None of the other Christians have to go on missions, serve in callings, and do temple work!"), maybe it is because we do not yet see through Christ's eyes. We have not yet comprehended what He is trying to make of us.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, "The great Mediator asks for our repentance not because we must 'repay' him in exchange for his paying our debt to justice, but because repentance initiates a developmental process that, with the Savior's help, leads us along the path to a saintly character" (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 149; emphasis in original).
Elder Dallin H. Oaks has said, referring to President Spencer W. Kimball's explanation, "The repenting sinner must suffer for his sins, but this suffering has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change" (The Lord's Way [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1991], 223; emphasis in original). Let's put that in terms of our analogy: The child must practice the piano, but this practice has a different purpose than punishment or payment. Its purpose is change.
I have born-again Christian friends who say to me, "You Mormons are trying to earn your way to heaven."
I say, "No, we are not earning heaven. We are learning heaven. We are preparing for it (see D&C 78:7). We are practicing for it."
They ask me, "Have you been saved by grace?"
I answer, "Yes. Absolutely, totally, completely, thankfully—yes!"
Then I ask them a question that perhaps they have not fully considered: "Have you been changed by grace?" They are so excited about being saved that maybe they are not thinking enough about what comes next. They are so happy the debt is paid that they may not have considered why the debt existed in the first place. Latter-day Saints know not only what Jesus has saved us from but also what He has saved us for. As my friend Brett Sanders puts it, "A life impacted by grace eventually begins to look like Christ's life." As my friend Omar Canals puts it, "While many Christians view Christ's suffering as only a huge favor He did for us, Latter-day Saints also recognize it as a huge investment He made in us." As Moroni puts it, grace isn't just about being saved. It is also about becoming like the Savior (see Moroni 7:48).
The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can live after we die but that we can live more abundantly (see John 10:10). The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can be cleansed and consoled but that we can be transformed (see Romans 8). Scriptures make it clear that no unclean thing can dwell with God (see Alma 40:26), but, brothers and sisters, no unchanged thing will even want to.
I know a young man who just got out of prison—again. Each time two roads diverge in a yellow wood, he takes the wrong one—every time. When he was a teenager dealing with every bad habit a teenage boy can have, I said to his father, "We need to get him to EFY." I have worked with that program since 1985. I know the good it can do.
His dad said, "I can't afford that."
I said, "I can't afford it either, but you put some in, and I'll put some in, and then we'll go to my mom, because she is a real softy."
We finally got the kid to EFY, but how long do you think he lasted? Not even a day. By the end of the first day he called his mother and said, "Get me out of here!" Heaven will not be heaven for those who have not chosen to be heavenly.
In the past I had a picture in my mind of what the final judgment would be like, and it went something like this: Jesus standing there with a clipboard and Brad standing on the other side of the room nervously looking at Jesus.
Jesus checks His clipboard and says, "Oh, shoot, Brad. You missed it by two points."
Brad begs Jesus, "Please, check the essay question one more time! There have to be two points you can squeeze out of that essay." That's how I always saw it.
But the older I get, and the more I understand this wonderful plan of redemption, the more I realize that in the final judgment it willnot be the unrepentant sinner begging Jesus, "Let me stay." No, he will probably be saying, "Get me out of here!" Knowing Christ's character, I believe that if anyone is going to be begging on that occasion, it would probably be Jesus begging the unrepentant sinner, "Please, choose to stay. Please, use my Atonement—not just to be cleansed but to be changed so that you want to stay."
The miracle of the Atonement is not just that we can go home but that—miraculously—we can feel at home there. If Christ did not require faith and repentance, then there would be no desire to change. Think of your friends and family members who have chosen to live without faith and without repentance. They don't want to change. They are not trying to abandon sin and become comfortable with God. Rather, they are trying to abandon God and become comfortable with sin. If Jesus did not require covenants and bestow the gift of the Holy Ghost, then there would be no way to change. We would be left forever with only willpower, with no access to His power. If Jesus did not require endurance to the end, then there would be no internalization of those changes over time. They would forever be surface and cosmetic rather than sinking inside us and becoming part of us—part of who we are. Put simply, if Jesus didn't require practice, then we would never become pianists.

Christ's Grace Is Sufficient to Help Us

"But Brother Wilcox, don't you realize how hard it is to practice? I'm just not very good at the piano. I hit a lot of wrong notes. It takes me forever to get it right." Now wait. Isn't that all part of the learning process? When a young pianist hits a wrong note, we don't say he is not worthy to keep practicing. We don't expect him to be flawless. We just expect him to keep trying. Perfection may be his ultimate goal, but for now we can be content with progress in the right direction. Why is this perspective so easy to see in the context of learning piano but so hard to see in the context of learning heaven?
Too many are giving up on the Church because they are tired of constantly feeling like they are falling short. They have tried in the past, but they always feel like they are just not good enough. They don't understand grace.
There are young women who know they are daughters of a Heavenly Father who loves them, and they love Him. Then they graduate from high school, and the values they memorized are put to the test. They slip up. They let things go too far, and suddenly they think it is all over. These young women don't understand grace.
There are young men who grow up their whole lives singing, "I hope they call me on a mission," and then they do actually grow a foot or two and flake out completely. They get their Eagles, graduate from high school, and go away to college. Then suddenly these young men find out how easy it is to not be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, or reverent. They mess up. They say, "I'll never do it again," and then they do it. They say, "I'll never do it again," and then they do it. They say, "This is stupid. I will never do it again." And then they do it. The guilt is almost unbearable. They don't dare talk to a bishop. Instead, they hide. They say, "I can't do this Mormon thing. I've tried, and the expectations are just way too high." So they quit. These young men don't understand grace.
I know returned missionaries who come home and slip back into bad habits they thought were over. They break promises made before God, angels, and witnesses, and they are convinced there is no hope for them now. They say, "Well, I've blown it. There is no use in even trying any more." Seriously? These young people have spent entire missions teaching people about Jesus Christ and His Atonement, and now they think there is no hope for them? These returned missionaries don't understand grace.
I know young married couples who find out after the sealing ceremony is over that marriage requires adjustments. The pressures of life mount, and stress starts taking its toll financially, spiritually, and even sexually. Mistakes are made. Walls go up. And pretty soon these husbands and wives are talking with divorce lawyers rather than talking with each other. These couples don't understand grace.
In all of these cases there should never be just two options: perfection or giving up. When learning the piano, are the only options performing at Carnegie Hall or quitting? No. Growth and development take time. Learning takes time. When we understand grace, we understand that God is long-suffering, that change is a process, and that repentance is a pattern in our lives. When we understand grace, we understand that the blessings of Christ's Atonement are continuous and His strength is perfect in our weakness (see 2 Corinthians 12:9). When we understand grace, we can, as it says in the Doctrine and Covenants, "continue in patience until [we] are perfected" (D&C 67:13).
One young man wrote me the following e-mail: "I know God has all power, and I know He will help me if I'm worthy, but I'm just never worthy enough to ask for His help. I want Christ's grace, but I always find myself stuck in the same self-defeating and impossible position: no work, no grace."
I wrote him back and testified with all my heart that Christ is not waiting at the finish line once we have done "all we can do" (2 Nephi 25:23). He is with us every step of the way.
Elder Bruce C. Hafen has written, "The Savior's gift of grace to us is not necessarily limited in time to 'after' all we can do. We may receive his grace before, during and after the time when we expend our own efforts" (The Broken Heart [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1989], 155). So grace is not a booster engine that kicks in once our fuel supply is exhausted. Rather, it is our constant energy source. It is not the light at the end of the tunnel but the light that moves us through the tunnel. Grace is not achieved somewhere down the road. It is received right here and right now. It is not a finishing touch; it is the Finisher's touch (see Hebrews 12:2).
In twelve days we celebrate Pioneer Day. The first company of Saints entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. Their journey was difficult and challenging; still, they sang:
Come, come, ye Saints, no toil nor labor fear;
But with joy wend your way.
Though hard to you this journey may appear,
Grace shall be as your day.
["Come, Come, Ye Saints," Hymns, 2002, no. 30]
"Grace shall be as your day"—what an interesting phrase. We have all sung it hundreds of times, but have we stopped to consider what it means? "Grace shall be as your day": grace shall be like a day. As dark as night may become, we can always count on the sun coming up. As dark as our trials, sins, and mistakes may appear, we can always have confidence in the grace of Jesus Christ. Do we earn a sunrise? No. Do we have to be worthy of a chance to begin again? No. We just have to accept these blessings and take advantage of them. As sure as each brand-new day, grace—the enabling power of Jesus Christ—is constant. Faithful pioneers knew they were not alone. The task ahead of them was never as great as the power behind them.


The grace of Christ is sufficient—sufficient to cover our debt, sufficient to transform us, and sufficient to help us as long as that transformation process takes. The Book of Mormon teaches us to rely solely on "the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah" (2 Nephi 2:8). As we do, we do not discover—as some Christians believe—that Christ requires nothing of us. Rather, we discover the reason He requires so much and the strength to do all He asks (see Philippians 4:13). Grace is not the absence of God's high expectations. Grace is the presence of God's power (see Luke 1:37).
Elder Neal A. Maxwell once said the following:
Now may I speak . . . to those buffeted by false insecurity, who, though laboring devotedly in the Kingdom, have recurring feelings of falling forever short. . . .
. . . This feeling of inadequacy is . . . normal. There is no way the Church can honestly describe where we must yet go and what we must yet do without creating a sense of immense distance. . . .
. . . This is a gospel of grand expectations, but God's grace is sufficient for each of us. [CR, October 1976, 14, 16; "Notwithstanding My Weakness," Ensign, November 1976, 12, 14]
With Elder Maxwell, I testify that God's grace is sufficient. Jesus' grace is sufficient. It is enough. It is all we need. Oh, young people, don't quit. Keep trying. Don't look for escapes and excuses. Look for the Lord and His perfect strength. Don't search for someone to blame. Search for someone to help you. Seek Christ, and, as you do, I promise you will feel the enabling power we call His amazing grace. I leave this testimony and all of my love—for I do love you. As God is my witness, I love the youth of this church. I believe in you. I'm pulling for you. And I'm not the only one. Parents are pulling for you, leaders are pulling for you, and prophets are pulling for you. And Jesus is pulling with you. I say this in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.


I love you all and I love this gospel and the opportunities we have because of grace. Thank you for your faithfulness. May God bless you in all your righteous desires.