A year ago today, I finished my service as a missionary for
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.
On my long plane ride home, one consistent thought plagued my mind–
There are lots of reasons that young members of the church choose to serve missions.
For me, it had something to do with debt.
I had this sense, from the time I was a little girl, that I was very blessed.
I knew that God had given me a good life;
And I was grateful.
I wanted to share the ultimate source of my happiness and peace.
I thought that if I could devote 18 months of my time to God,
I could somehow prove the gratitude that I felt.
My service would manifest the love I had for Him–
And I could “write off” all that I owed.
After my sacrifice, we would be even.
So I volunteered.
I was assigned to share the gospel in the Philippines.
And oh, how my perspective was changed.
I’ll never forget the moment that started my shift;
It was Christmastime,
I was walking down the street, eating a cupcake.
A young boy, with round, wanting eyes and rotted teeth, ran up to me–
He stuck his hand out, asking for my treat.
I had just finished the last bite and held only the paper wrapper remains;
I regrettably told him it was all gone
And that I was so sorry…
He grabbed the empty paper and popped it, immediately, into his mouth,
Swallowing it whole.
Then his bare feet and scrawny legs ran away;
His dirty, oversized shirt, overwhelming his disappearing frame.
After the shock subsided, I recognized what desperation meant.
My heart broke and the tears came.
I couldn’t sleep that night…
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the last time I saw hunger, struggle, or suffering.
And it was difficult for me to swallow.
I started to realize that I had never comprehended the gravity of my blessings.
18 months would not be an adequate “thank you”…
I could never repay God,
Especially, since there was never any money in my account to begin with.
My very life was already given as a gift from Him,
He granted my daily breath.
I also recognized His added love, hand, and help consistently;
He had given me a body, family, knowledge, opportunity, freedom, faith, agency, mercy…
Countless treasures that I had so ignorantly overlooked.
All this, on top of my already “borrowed” life.
I suddenly knew that even an eternity of devoted service, would still land me on the left.
In the hole.
When this understanding came, I panicked.
I recognized my own nothingness before my Maker.
The anxiety, worthlessness, and guilt welled up inside of me…
Until, one day,
God mercifully soothed my aching soul.
The thought came to my mind,
“You were never meant to pay the debt.“
That’s why He sent His perfect Son.
To make up the difference.
To bridge the gap.
To pay the unfathomable, insurmountable price–
For me. For you. For the whole human race.
And the most amazing miracle of all–
His grace is ENOUGH.
It is sufficient for all,
After ALL we can do.
So I found CHRISTmas in the Philippine rice-fields.
I felt God’s love for those people, like I’ve never felt during my existence.
I loved them like He did.
And I knew perfectly well that He loved them just as much as He loved me…
So why was it that I was born where I was born?
Why was it that I grew up going to Christmas parties, when this boy had never heard of Santa Claus?
Why was it that I didn’t have to wonder each day if I would eat?
I don’t yet fully understand all the reasons why…
But this much I do know,
Christ’s atonement was for us all.
We are all offered the same opportunity to come home.
To claim grace.
But the definition of “after ALL we can do” is very individual
and dependent on the given circumstances of our lives.
I will be accountable to a different degree,
because of my situation, opportunity, or blessings.
“Where much is given, much is required.”
The indebtedness that I felt was real;
But I was mistaken in thinking that a simple 18 months was sufficient to serve Him.
I owe my life to Him.
I don’t have to fight every day to survive,
So I can, and must, spend a lot more time and energy on serving His children.
It is my greatest pleasure and privilege to try to give
ALL that I am for ALL of my life…
So I’m worthy to claim His grace.
How overwhelmed and overjoyed I am–
That He already paid the debt.
Hopefully, we can all “remember” the reason for the season.
Why it is that we celebrate Christmas…
He is our greatest gift.
And we owe Him our best love, gratitude, and efforts;
This time of year, and always.