Friday, October 17, 2014

His Grace is Sufficient: the Allegory of the Suitcase

Part of this post is a retelling and part is a continuation of what I wrote before. I feel it is important to document it in one succinct(ish) story and now, before baby #4 is born, is the time. So, here is the whole story of the missionary suitcase from beginning to end.

During a visit with my in-laws we were told they had my husband's missionary suitcase and they wanted us to take it home. I was not excited at the prospect of having another suitcase living in our basement, but I suppose they weren't fans of storing it either. Only an hour or two was spent wondering what we were going to do with another suitcase in the house when we already had two other full size sets of luggage. I came across an article written about prospective missionaries in Zimbabwe, how the efforts of three good women were helping them achieve their goals for serving the Lord, and about how readers could also contribute to the cause by filling a missionary suitcase. (Side note: the missionary suitcase is a part of the larger organization Eyes4Zimbabwe) It was quite clear to me that the suitcase was meant to be filled for a sister missionary in Africa. There was no doubt in my mind that I was being given an opportunity to help a missionary to serve, just as so many others had helped me.

The article had a list of everything needed to fill the suitcase. As much as I knew that I was supposed to take on this project, I also knew there was no way I would be able to provide all the items on the list. Even just the clothes would be far too expensive but I figured that, because I was doing what I needed to do, things would work out and I would figure out a way.  That wouldn't be a problem, as I had extra fabric and patterns on hand. I prayed to know what sizes I should make and gather together and then got to work to make it happen. It was a lot of work to get everything sewn up but it was totally worth it.
The skirts. The three on the left have adjustable waists.
Most of the fabric pieces were things I'd had for a while and wasn't planning on using myself, but which I couldn't let go of for some reason. A couple of the items came from fabric I had planned on using but felt it was better used for a missionary.
The tops. The purple one has pockets.
 The white and coral fabrics had a plan, as did the fabric for the dress below. They'll be much better used by a missionary.
Accessory jacket and dress
As I came closer to finishing the clothing I knew that I wasn't going to be able to just figure out what to do to acquire the rest of the suitcase items on my own. The only way to make it happen was to ask for help. I asked family and friends for the things I needed and they came forward beautifully. With their help I was able to check off every item on the list, as well as adding a slip, and a couple of extra goodies. I was very grateful to everyone who helped make it possible and felt really good about what I had accomplished.
Most of the items and the suitcase.
On drop off day I lovingly packed the suitcase. I couldn't find the slip I'd purchased and planned to just pick up another one. Two different addresses had been listed for drop off so I did a little more online searching to find which site was preferred. What I found horrified me. After finding the correct location I also found their list of items to pack the suitcase. It was different than the list I had been working from and my list was incomplete. In a moment's time I'd gone from feeling only warm and fuzzy to feeling like a complete failure. I had neither the time nor the money to gather the rest of the items. What I had spent so much time and effort putting together had fallen short of what was required. I felt like I had let down my family and friends who helped, that everything I did was worthless, and that taking it to the warehouse would be a waste. Thankfully I remembered reading where they said that a partial case was better than nothing at all. I still felt ashamed that I was bringing an incomplete case but I knew I had to let it go because I'd done my best. A voice in my head told me that my best sucks and I should have known better from the beginning so that my efforts and those of my loved ones would not have been in vain.

Disappointed and hours later than I had planned, I put the kids in the car so we could head up to Salt Lake to deliver the suitcase. I tried to retract the handle I'd been using to pull the suitcase along and quickly discovered it was jammed. It was impossible to get that handle to go back in where it was supposed to be. It was officially broken. The disappointment I'd felt before quickly turned to despair. That same voice that had told me my best sucked seemed to delight in reminding me that the whole project had started because we'd gotten an unexpected suitcase, so what did it mean that the suitcase was broken. obviously it meant that I had vaunted myself up far beyond where I should have, that I'd wasted my time and resources, as well as that of everyone else who helped. And obviously making the trip up to deliver it would be stupid because now even the suitcase was as useless as I was. I sat on the van's bumper and lost control of my emotions as I tried unsuccessfully to fix suitcase. My four year old saw me in obvious distress and said, "It's okay, Mom; you just need to practice some more." That shook me from my misery just enough to recognize that the voice in my head was being much more abusive to me than I allow myself or anyone else to be. I got in the car to drop off the broken suitcase, weeping and hoping for a miracle I didn't expect.

My miracle happened. Still red-eyed and soggy from crying, I stopped in at Sister Missionary Mall to replace the slip that had gone missing. The owner, Jenni, was there when I got arrived. We know each other from when I was a Missionary Mall employee. She saw the state of distress I was in and I told her everything that had happened. Without hesitation, Jenni offered me a brand new suitcase. That brought on more tears but this time they were happy. She also donated a new slip and a belt that matches the dress. I am so grateful for her generosity. It was fortunate that I got there when I did so that Jenni could help.

After the new suitcase was repacked I loaded the kids up in the car and we were off to the warehouse. It was amazing to see the people there and all the donations that had been made. This project covers far more than missionaries. I had no idea how much there was for all types of charity work. Books, hygiene kits, clothing, newborn kits...it was truly astounding. We made our way over to where the missionary suitcases were being gathered. I went over to a couple of the volunteers and, rather apologetically, explained that I had used the wrong list and the suitcase was incomplete. Along with that, I told them how the original suitcase had broken and I had been given a new one to pass along to the missionary. We all cried together and then they shared more stories with me that they had heard from others who had come with their suitcases. One of the women then compared the list of things I had in the suitcase with the list they had on hand. My heart lifted even higher when she said, "It looks like you have pretty much everything. Just a couple of sweaters should do it." That was when Reeve came out. She's one of the organizers from Zimbabwe. She gave me a big hug and thanked me for my donation as one of the volunteers told her about my broken suitcase. While I told Reeve my story, the other volunteer walked over to the table of loose clothing and chose two sweaters in the appropriate size and added them to the suitcase I'd brought. The list was complete. Reeve made sure chat with my kids and asked me to send her the story of the miracles before we left. The kids and I left with happy faces and warm hearts
Reeve with the kids, my pregnant belly, and me
This story is wonderful in and of itself. It is certainly an experience I will never forget, and not just because of what I've already written. I expected to make my donation and pay forward the blessings and help I received as I prepared for and served my mission. I did not expect to also be so richly blessed from what I learned. This is where the allegory comes in. I learned about the process of repentance and forgiveness.

Receiving the suitcase came with the knowledge that something needed to be done. A recognition that change is necessary is the first step in the repentance process. Repentance also requires some work on our part. It is changing our ways, stretching ourselves and striving to become better. Sewing the clothes certainly did that for me. We were not meant to do everything in this life on our own. The support of our friends and loved ones makes the repentance process so much easier. There are people out there who care and want to help. Some of those people may surprise you with what help they can offer. I couldn't have provided what I did without the help of so many who gave what they could.

The road to repentance is not without its bumps and opposition. Old habits and temptations can easily creep in and get in the way of your efforts. Finding out I didn't have a full list and then having a broken suitcase were difficult for me to bear. I'd tried so hard and felt like those setbacks threw me back to where I'd started. There is one who does not want us to succeed in overcoming our mistakes and weaknesses. His poisonous voice tells us we are inadequate, that we will never measure up, and that we needn't bother because we will just fail. He tells us there is no coming back. He is a liar. I felt worthless and weak even though I had already accomplished much more than if I had simply let the opportunity pass me by. That voice that tells us we are out of our depth and can't possibly measure up is the one that wants us to fail, not the voice of the One who died for us because He knows we were made to succeed. This was an especially poignant lesson for me, as it helped me to understand what it must be like for someone who feels like they have gone too far to be able to make their way back.

Meeting with Jenni was like meeting with the bishop. At first it was uncomfortable to see her in the state I was in. But she quickly and lovingly put me at ease.  More importantly, she provided me with the tools I needed to make everything right. After seeing her, the suitcase I had to give was no longer broken.

And then I arrived at the warehouse with Reeve. I felt nothing but love there. No one told me I wasn't good enough or that what I brought was a poor excuse for a contribution. Instead, everything was made right. Where I had fallen short despite my best efforts, the difference was made up. I was welcomed with embraces, smiles, thanks, and love. I anticipate feeling all those things when I one day meet my Savior and bow at His feet. I look forward to the day when my shortcomings will be made up and my best efforts will be perfected through grace. His grace is sufficient for us all. There is no one who is a lost cause, no one who cannot come back to the Savior, and no one who He doesn't love with a perfect love. What a great blessing that is.

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