Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Sleeping Bag

As a convert to the church I’ve occasionally felt like I was somehow just a little bit on the outside of all that it means to be a full-fledged Mormon. It seemed, at times, as though I was looking in through a window at the real LDS people who were living lives so different from the one I knew growing up. I knew it was wrong to feel that way…… we’re a church made up of millions of converts after all……..but nevertheless I did. It’s mostly a cultural thing, I think. Our daughters have felt it too, surprisingly, saying things like, “Boy, you’re really Molly Mormon today,” if they walk into their older sister’s house and find her baking homemade rolls. They don’t mean this in a negative way, and homemade rolls don’t have any religious significance of course, it’s just that they never had homemade rolls when they were growing up and it seems a bit strange to them.

Years ago when we moved to our little mountain community from the big city we found ourselves thrust right into the middle of a tight knit group of what we considered really “hard core” Mormons, culture wise. Much of the population of the town was LDS and many of them were descended from ancestors who came across the plains pulling handcarts, I’m sure. Too, these folks were self-reliant and skilled in ways hard to fathom for a city slicker like me. In their spare time after work, they grew and canned their own food, raised or hunted their own meat, butchered and packaged it for freezing themselves, made clothes you couldn’t tell from store bought including winter coats and men’s suits, built their own houses, fixed their own cars, made their own five tier wedding cakes that looked like a magazine picture, (I was once told by a dear sister that this requires only 10 boxes of white cake mix if you’re taking shortcuts. She actually thought I might need that information someday. Bless her heart.) Sadly, we also learned that when the time called for it these amazing people also lovingly built coffins for loved ones who had been called home.

Well, all of this was intimidating to me to say the least. I felt inadequate. I suffered a loss of confidence. Making sure my auto club membership was paid up was one of the ways I prepared for the emergencies of life, not doing actual car things. I knew where to buy a great wedding cake or a winter jacket on sale but making either one myself never crossed my mind. My self-esteem was in tatters. No way could I fit in with this bunch. Then the Relief Society president and the Bishop did something that changed my mind.

As I sat in Relief Society one week listening to the announcements, the sister up front began to talk about a recent tragedy that had happened somewhere on the other side of the world. An earthquake, I think. People's homes were destroyed. Winter was coming on. They would be cold. The stake had asked the sisters to sacrifice their time, means, and talents to help by making quilts to send to those people in such dire need. A sign-up sheet was passed around. In the heat of the moment I signed up, regretting my foolish impulse before the clipboard reached the end of the row. What on earth was I thinking? I didn’t know how to make a quilt! All of these other sisters could make Texas Star, log cabin, double wedding ring or whatever you called those quilts in their sleep! I’d be a laughing stock for sure! Well, it was too late now as I saw the Relief Society president pick up the clipboard. So I went home and researched the possibilities. I learned about a comforter, blanket kind of thing made with two sheets that you sewed together with batting in the middle. Then all you needed to do was tie it with yarn in the middle. The directions said it was easy. Okay, maybe this was at least possible. That was the plan, then. I’d get started soon.

In the meantime, a table appeared outside the Relief Society room, already draped with several amazingly beautiful handmade quilts. Above them was a perfectly lettered and glitter embellished sign explaining the project. Each week more donations were placed in bright stacks, on, under, and around that table….each more beautiful than the last. My heart sank every time I passed that table. I would need to get started soon on that blanket thing, I knew. Procrastination wasn’t helping matters.

Finally, one dreadful Sunday the announcement was made that the project would end the week after next. I hadn’t even started!! “Not to panic,” I thought desperately. I knew my family would be heading down the mountain the 37 miles to the nearest shopping center next Saturday, so I figured I’d buy supplies and get started then.

Saturday came, we arrived for our shopping as usual, splitting up at the door, each of us with our shopping assignment and separate cart. I headed for the sewing department for batting, yarn, needles and thread and then on to sheets. All this stuff in my cart started to seem overwhelming, not to mention expensive. “Only one week to do all this, while teaching full time to boot,” I thought dejectedly.

I pushed my shopping cart toward the checkout, resigned to my fate. It was my own fault. As I pushed I came across a huge bin practically blocking the entire aisle. There was a giant “SALE” sign above it. The bin was overflowing with sleeping bags. I slowed down. I stopped. “Sleeping bags were warm,” I thought. “Sleeping bags were probably just as warm as a quilt. Not so beautiful for sure…….but wait…………there was a nice, thick, red one with a Superhero on the front. A kid might think this thick, red sleeping bag was beautiful!” I opened it up. “A kid WOULD think this is beautiful!!!” I thought joyfully as I examined the bright colors on the Super Hero’s cape. I threw it into my cart and headed back to the sewing department to put the batting and yarn back and then on to the sheets.

The next day we arrived at church early so I could sneak into the hall and make my contribution without getting caught. I got down on the floor and was putting the sleeping bag way underneath the table when the door to the Relief society room opened. The president stuck her head out, saw what I was doing, smiled, and said “Thank you.” I mumbled something and dashed off to the chapel. “Well, at least that was over.” I sighed.

A couple of weeks later, in Sacrament meeting, the Bishop got up to give the announcements. He began by telling the members about the tragedy in the far away land. About how the people had lost their homes and would be cold this winter, and how the sisters in the stake had been asked to donate their time, means, and talents to make warm quilts for them. He told how proud and happy he was to report of our ward’s generous response and contribution. He said, “All the members of our ward will be proud to know that your wives, daughters, mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers, nieces and friends have donated thirty-seven beautiful handmade quilts……oh wait…here’s a note…” he stopped a bit before going on. “Yes,” he continued, “ thirty-seven beautiful quilts and one red sleeping bag were donated. There was a slightly puzzled tone in his voice as he said, “Thank you so much Sisters.”

The Relief Society president was sitting just two rows in front of us. She turned then and smiled at me. My husband looked at me questioningly. Then he whispered, “Why are you crying?” I just shook my head at him. I was crying because in that moment I knew that the Lord and His Church had accepted my effort. What I could do, was what I should do. It didn’t matter that other people could do more. I was supposed to help too, in whatever way I could. It was enough. And it did help. Some kid really would like the warm, red, Superhero sleeping bag. His life would be better because of it. A kid on the other side of the world, someone who had lost his home maybe, would be warmer because of it.

The Relief Society president was trying to give me this message when she gave the note to the Bishop, of course. I’ll never forget her smile….and I’ve felt a lot less like an outsider ever since.