Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Of Projects, Parables and Paradox

You may have heard about the young woman in Provo who was recently attacked, raped, and left for dead outside of the Branbury Apartments.

What you don't know is this young woman is in my stake.

It's no mystery to anyone familiar with Brigham Young University that entire stakes do not cover a large geographical area. Members of my ward live in the complex where the incident took place. I don't think I have to explain that I live very close to where this incident happened.

But on Sunday, our stake presented us with an opportunity to do something about what happned: a service project to clear away the trees and undergrowth separating the Provo River trail from the Branbury Apartments.

On Monday, we gathered and got to work.






As I did my part to clear trees in the heat of desert midday, I thought about the young lady whose need has inspired our actions. I thought about her loved ones, and how hard it must be for them to see her go through this. I said more than one silent prayer for them all that day, and my prayers do remain with them because they are not just nameless strangers to me. They are members of my Church family I haven't met yet, and I don't need to know their names or ever see their faces to love them like family and wish them the best.

Those feelings of love and family stayed with me as I looked around and saw my fellow volunteers. I saw the priesthood holders who would come on a day's notice and give their time and their sweat to protect the safety and virtue of others. I saw members of my Relief Society there, doing their share and pulling their weight--exerting strength according to what they could lift, and conserving their energy so they could work longer and do more. I saw a great and powerful love that day between friends and strangers alike as we do what we can to diminish Satan's influence in our community.

And the great part to me is that this project was just the beginning to a larger solution--which is so important because just changing the environment isn't going to be enough in this battle against the adversary. The Branbury is providing an ongoing self defense course, which has (unsurprisingly) received an overwhelming response from young women who want to feel safe despite what has happened to our sister.

But what I will long remember from this day was the image of the Priesthood and the Relief Society working together. If I may invoke the language and cadence of a parable, I want to picture the kingdom of heaven for a minute.

Young men and women lift burdens that look like trees and underbrush but are actually something much greater--despite the heat of the day and the weight of the load. They leave all the tired gender battles on the ground where they belong.  A log is a log, and someone has to lift it and put it in the pile over there. It's that simple. You lift what you can carry, and when you get tired you pray. Male and female, you are strengthened through Christ and you carry on.

A young man, seeing I have no gloves, gives me some to use. I use them for my task and give them back to him because I don't need them for everything. Certified workmen run the equipment, the chainsaws and the wood chipper. They oversee everyone, young and old, and clear the area when it's time to pull another tree down. They plan, make the first cut, and hand us a rope to pull the tree down.

If I have hands, I can work. The strength of my back is the strength of my back. The only reason there were only four of my church sisters there working is because only four of them showed up--not because the women weren't invited.

President Spencer W. Kimball once taught of the Relief Society, "There is a power in this organization that has not yet been fully exercised to strengthen the homes of Zion and build the Kingdom of God—nor will it until both the sisters and the priesthood catch the vision of Relief Society." (see here)

I don't know what other people see when they think about heaven, but it's important to remember that the work never stops when you want to go far. In Matthew 20, Christ teaches:
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

In my mind, heaven wouldn't be heaven if there was no work to do. Sure, we could sit around in pretty mansions and shoot the breeze with each other for all eternity, but what would be the point? We need to remember that heaven, in all its perfection, still has a purpose: to serve God in opposing evil continually.

If the work in which we're engaged for mortality never penetrates that spiritual realm of good and evil, doesn't force us to look beyond our immediate circumstances and into that eternal future, we won't be ready for that future when it comes.