Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Progress, Not Perfection

Last Wednesday we had "specialized training" which was really only a super District meeting since it included Palermo's two Districts and the Zone Leaders.  But it was good.  We watched the awesome video Because of Him (so good).

President Waddoups has a couple of new rules: all meal appointments can only be an hour and a half, and we can only go as one set of missionaries.  I can see why this would be a good idea, but I don't think Sicily is going to like this.  For instance....

Festa della Liberazione: Liberation Day 
April 25, 1945 marked the last day of World War II for Italy.  That was the day she was liberated from German Nazi occupation and Mussolini's fascist Social Republic.  A radio broadcast announced the national strike against both oppressive forces, signaling a wide-spread revolt.  Two months later Italians held a constitutional referendum choosing to abolish the monarchy, allowing the country become a republic.

April 25th is a big holiday for Italians - their version of our Fourth of July.  What happens on this day you ask?  Generally, the day is celebrated with marching bands, political rallies, music concerts, and food festivals.

In Palermo, however, everyone and their dog (no joke) leaves Palermo, emptying the city entirely of any life form, and heads out to the countryside for a barbeque fest.

Kidnapped on Liberation Day
Friday (the 25th) happened to be our day of weekly planning, meaning: we stay inside and plan for the next week.  Well, it was until we got a call from Fratello Simoncini.
     "Hey - are you coming?" he asked.
     "Coming where?"
     "To the activity in Bacarella."
     "What activity in Bacarella?"
     "Half the ward is going out to have a barbeque and we're bringing friends. There's going to be good food, people to talk to..."
     "No, we are doing weekly planning, and I don't think we can go."
     "Do you have any appointments for the day?"
     "...Maybe..." (we didn't. No one was left in the city!)
     "Then why not?"
     "We just can't, but thank you! We will see you on Sunday."
     "Ok sister.  See you later."

Not five minutes later we get a call from Sorella Giambona.
     "Pronto. This is Sorella Nef" I answered.
     "Sorella Nef, I heard you think you're not coming today."
     "Hi Sorella Giambona. Nice to hear from you!"
     "We can't come today. We have things to do."
     "Oh, do you."
     "I asked the other missionaries and they said they are all helping with the activity in Palermo 2, and that's why they can't come. Are you helping with the activity in Palermo 2?"
     "No. We decided they didn't need all the missionaries to help."
     "Well, we are having an activity and we need your help!"
     "Sorella, I don't know..."
     "There's going to be people - non-members!  And there is lungomare where you can do Finding."
     "...And what time would we be getting back?"
     "The afternoon."
     "Really? The afternoon?"
     "Yes!" she promised.
     "Ok good," she said, "I will call Fratello Simoncini and have him pick you up ok love you bye!"

Not 30 seconds later Fratello Simoncini called.
     "Hi. We are already here to pick you up. We decided to come and get you anyway."

And that is how we were kidnapped by our members and swept away to Bacarella for this "activity".
The Good News:  Half the ward really was there, and there were non-members and a lungomare (promenade) where we could do Finding.  The Bad News:  They didn't get us back until late.

It Wasn't a Bust of a Day in Bacarella
But, we seized the opportunity, talked with non-members and in down time we went out to the lungomare and did some Finding.

So it wasn't a bust of a day.  In fact, we got more work done that day than any other day of the week!

Near the end, John (our future apostle) started introducing the Book of Mormon to friends at the party. We joined in, explaining it further and concluded with a spiritual thought and asked the members each to talk about their favorite parts of the Book of Mormon.  The members loved doing it!  The friends responded positively.

The next day, we found out that President Waddoups had actually said not to go to that particular party, but no one had mentioned it to us.  Oops.  Sorry President. :\

New Rule Anxiety
We had a meal appointment with Erika and her family (non members) on Sunday.  We let her know very very clearly that our time there could only be an hour and a half.  But since this is Sicily and they do meal courses, which they bring out one at a time, we didn't finish eating until the 1 1/2-hour mark.  Then we did the spiritual thought.  Then they needed to show us the garden.  So we didn't get out until the 2 1/2-hour mark. :\

Honestly, this put us in a conundrum.  We kept saying we needed to go, but they kept finding new ways to make us stay.  I even stood by the door for the last 10 minutes as they kept talking to us.  Sicilians love visiting.  And this family loved having the missionaries in their home.

Other missionaries are having these same issues.  I think every one of the companionships has had a meal appointment and no one has gotten out on time.

Held Hostage to Hospitality
Sorella Bradford and her family had this same predicament.  The Bradford family had a lunch appointment with a member family in the ward.  The Bradfords warned their hosts that they needed to leave by 2:30 so they could reach other scheduled appointments.  The family promptly told the Bradfords, "You will not leave our house until 4pm!" And, that is precisely what happened.
The Bradford Family treat the Missionaries to Pizza
photo: Melissa Bradford (giving the thumbs-up)

I'll tell you, Pronzo (lunch) is sacred time to Sicilians. They are clearly not happy about this new rule.  I will have to work on how to obey the new rule while not offending our wonderfully hospitable Sicilian friends. Such is the saga of the new rule anxiety amongst us all.

Bradfords are Cool
The Bradford family is really cool.  They stuck around for a couple more days and got us some beautiful pink hydrangeas.

I realized this week that at the end of this transfer, I will be at the point in my mission where Sorella Bradford was when I first met her here in Palermo.  I am getting old in my mission.  I've been in Palermo forever.  Palermo Sicilians are so great and friendly and kind - it's a shame that more of them won't listen to the gospel and try it.  With as great as people are here, you would think the Church would be bigger.

Progress, Not Perfection
Marsh and I at the top of Mount Pellegrino
I was thinking a lot this week about how God doesn't require perfection of us, but progress.  Sometimes we get caught up thinking that we need to do things Right, or accomplish things Perfectly, all the while forgetting that God just wants us to Do.  God requires that we Try.  He wants the Effort.  Yes, we should shoot for the ideal, but when we fall short (and we will), don't get down.  Just pick yourself up, and move on because any little progress is still PROGRESS.

The effort that God is looking for is simply to become a little better today than you were yesterday.  Sure, we'll make mistakes.  Of course we'll stumble a little, but all He asks is that we keep dusting ourselves off. Keep trying.  Keep overcoming.  It's the progress we make, not our current state, that determines how God judges us.  It's all about progressing.

But that's hard.  How do you always, every day, progress?  Improve EVERY day?  Sounds improbable. Even, impossible.  But is it?  As I pondered this the other night while I was thinking about how cool the universe is and my own problems on becoming better, I thought about how our progress is tied to a complicated physics lesson.

Progression and Kepler's Law of Planetary Motion
The way I see it is like this: Progression and Acceleration are alike.
     Progress is change in advancement.  
     Acceleration is change in speed and/or direction.
If we're moving along, and our course is linear (a straight line), maintaining a constant acceleration is next to impossible.  BUT what if our progress was like Kepler's Law of Planetary Motion?

German Astronomer Johannes Kepler (1571-1630) was the first to discover that all planets move in elliptical (circular) orbits around the sun.  This mind-blowing discovery in the 1600s proved crucial to Sir Isaac Newton in 1684 when he formulated his Law of Gravitation.  Kepler's discovery of elliptical planet movement can prove crucial to understanding our progress as well.
"The chief aim of all investigations of the external world
should be to discover the rational order and harmony 
which has been imposed on it by God
and which He revealed to us in the language of mathematics."
Johannes Kepler
There is a rational order to the universe. Every planet in the solar system orbits around the sun.  But the cool thing about elliptical (oval/circular) orbit is that it promotes constant acceleration. That's right. Because the planet is maintaining a constant change in direction as it orients itself to the sun, it constantly accelerates.  How does this happen?  Well, let's just say that the sun is the key.  In fact, the sun is so important in this movement/acceleration process that the maximum acceleration of planetary motion is when a planet is closest to the sun.

The Lesson for Us?
What would happen if we oriented ourselves toward the Son?  We spend so much time and energy trying to accelerate through life as we focus on other things.
     Running after this to get ahead
     Chasing after that to keep up with the Joneses
     Jumping through hoops to find perfection
What if, instead, we left the linear rat-race and began orbiting ourselves in elliptical progression?
What if we centered our gravity on the One who is the center of the universe - the Creator of the Universe? I think, little-by-little we'd find amazing progress.  Continual progress.  Accelerating progress.

Kepler's Law of Planetary Movement: it's a scientific fact of the universe, and a metaphor of growth for us. Elliptical movement around a greater power-generating source is the only way to continual progression.
God expects Progress, not perfection.  No one's perfect.  No one can be or will ever be perfect in this life. The only perfection we should be seeking is the only One who was Perfect - Jesus Christ.  Look to Him.

By the way, Johannes Kepler, our genius Astrologer man of science was also a faithful man of God.
"Great is God...great is His power and there is no end to His wisdom.
Praise Him you heavens, and glorify Him, sun and moon and you planets.
For out of Him and through Him, and in Him are all things."
Johannes Kepler
Focusing on Christ changes us.  Couldn't we use a little change?  What do you say we give it a go.  A little bit better every day - and, who knows?  We just might progress to heights and ways unimagined and discover our place in the Universe. (also featured on family blog: Progress, Not Perfection May 2014)

Love to You All, and Have a Progressively Great Week!
Sorella Ashley Nef

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