Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Visit That Taught Me the Most

I hesitate to tell this story.
I hesitate because I believe that Relief Society and Visiting Teaching are divinely inspired programs.
I don't want to create a misunderstanding about that.

For those of you who aren't church members and may not know about home and visiting teaching, let me give you a very brief Raggedy Old Convert's thumbnail sketch.

Every family in the church is assigned two home teachers. These home teachers are men. They are assigned to visit families.
Plus, every woman is also assigned two female visiting teachers.
Both of these sets of teachers are to visit members once a month to check on their physical and spiritual welfare, health, and happiness.
If there is a need then someone is close at hand to help.

As you can imagine, the logistics of this large an undertaking mean that almost everyone in the church is assigned to be a teacher to someone else. Assigned to love and look out for them.

Since the beginning, I think it's safe to say that millions of acts of service have taken place at the hands of teachers. Sometimes precious lifelong friendships have been born.
Countless meals have been brought to familes. Millions of houses have been cleaned. Cars have been fixed, children tended, jobs found, fences mended, furniture moved, lawnmowers loaned, rides to hospitals given, yards raked, hands held, tears dried, spirits lifted, hearts strengthened and courage bolstered.

These programs exist because Father officially wants us to love. He even gave us written instructions so we wouldn't forget. When we do anything in that spirit, miracles can happen. That includes visiting teaching.
I tell about one of those "love miracles" in an old post I wrote a long time ago called "Angels."

Sometimes though, for one reason or another, we can forget how vital love is to our teaching and instead visit with a spirit of something else.
Like obligation.
Or turning in a complete report.
But if we forget that love part, things may happen that were never intended.
I remember once when it did.

We were relatively new in the church. My husband and I were doing the line upon line thing, trying hard to adjust to the truth and a culture very different from what we'd both known growing up.
And, not only that, since it was back in the 70's, we were adjusting to a culture very different from the one almost everyone else we knew was living in at that time.
Indeed, to a convert in the 70's, that non-drinking, non-smoking, dedicated to spouse, family, and service lifestyle made Mormons a peculiar people indeed.

Anyway, I was teaching 6th grade in a big city school. It was my my first full year. A recent graduate, everything was new and a challenge.
I was also pregnant. Again. And on purpose too.
As a matter of fact I was pregnant as a direct result of the truths we were learning about eternal families and children.
And even though he understood those truths about eternal families and had cooperated in this pregnancy endeavor, Larry was scared.

You see, up until recently he had been putting me through college while supporting our family all by himself.
He did this even though with our young kids, it was almost impossibly hard to come up with the additional money needed for my tuition and books. But Larry loved me, and in addition he and I had made this deal about school.
I had a dream you see. I wanted to finish college and become a teacher.
The bargain was that he would pay for my dream and support us all. After graduating I would teach and help with an extra income.

Now we were pregnant again because of learning about eternal truths. He was afraid that when we had another baby I would want to quit teaching to stay home. Then he'd have all of us plus one more mouth to feed. All by himself again. This wasn't part of our deal.
I assured him that I'd keep teaching for years to come.
(As it turned out that was a lie. Those teaching years came after a sizeable gap of staying home with babies and working part-time from home.)

You see, (Insert Heavenly Father/ World culture clash here), we already had two kids. A girl and a boy.
And since it was the '70's, this was the "perfect" family according to all the experts.

The experts were "population explosion" scientists who were yelling their heads off every night on the news. This was the "Cause," with a capital C, of the day.
Those in the know agreed that the world was heading for certain disaster in the next decade because there were just too many people!
There was no room, no food, no water, no medicine! Famine would engulf every continent causing wars that would end all life as we knew it.
There would be no dawn of the millenium!
And it had nothing to do with computers crashing around the world either.

The scientists were sure. People had to stop having babies! Or certainly at least more than two per couple. "Replacement offspring" I think they were called by someone.

In this climate even some of our own family members expressed dismay upon learning of the coming of our third baby.
When I think about that it still stings.
Casual acquaintances felt the need to remark on our growing family.
"No responsible person would consider more than two offspring," was the comment a colleague made to me upon hearing of our coming baby.
With our next pregnancy I began to say, "The world needs all the kids like mine it can possibly get."

But we were beginning to learn to listen to a higher authority.
It seems Heavenly Father thinks babies are a joy and a blessing. He thinks enough room was made on earth for all of his children who need to live here.
He's blessed those who are able to become parents with a wonderful gift.
And spirits waiting to come to earth are given a most precious gift of their own when born into loving homes where the truths of the gospel are being taught.
And the truth is that there are those who are waiting.

So, here I am, wife, mother of two, new teacher, eight months pregnant. Trying to live truth. And finding out that living truth isn't always easy.
It's Thursday afternoon after a hard week at work and I'm dead on my feet.

I walk into our unbelieveably messy living room at 4 0'clock, hot on the heels of my unbelievably messy kids, rushing to get dinner started while connecting with them and their day.
Larry was no help at all because he worked until 11 on Thursdays.
I'd need to keep some supper ready for him. He'll be dead tired too.

The phone rings as I'm making something that involves macaroni and cheese and hamburger.
It's my visiting teacher. She also happens to be the bishop's wife. The dinners she cooks involve fresh asparagus and homemade bread.

I need to include a bit of explanation here.
The bishop's family lived on the "other side" of the ward. Across a certain avenue. I called it the "OS." Our home teacher lived over there too.
Our home teacher was a bio-medical engineer. His next door neighbor was also in our ward. He was a lawyer.
That part of our ward had big, beautiful, never messy houses or kids.
They also had beautiful, never messy moms who didn't work outside the home.

Our side of the ward had little houses.
In addition, my little house was also usually messy.
"Other side" had huge families who took up whole rows in church where everyone matched and nobody ever had a hair out of place.
My little family of four sometimes attended church with unmatched socks.

I just knew that every single one of those living on the "OS" had been Mormons all their lives and their ancestors pulled handcarts across the desert to get them here. They were born knowing how to be LDS.
I always felt inadequate when compared with them.
Even though it was only me doing the comparing.

So, new in the gospel me says a cheery hello to the bishop's perfectly competent wife who's on the phone.
She wants to schedule a time for her visiting teaching.

Crestfallen but thinking fast I suggest Monday after school.
That will give me the weekend to get this mess cleaned up.
Our little house had that awful, modern, "open" architecture concept where you could see practically into every room from the front door, including any dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. There was no easy way to hide dirty secrets. Clean-up was a major undertaking.

Back to the phone call.
"How about tomorrow after school?" she suggested brightly instead.
"No, no, no.  Friday afternoon won't work for me." I replied, panic building.  "What about Tuesday?"
"Tuesday's not good," she chirped.
"Sunday after church? I suggested. I looked down over my baby big belly to see that the floor needed to be mopped.
At least I could manage the floor on Saturday.

"No, Sunday won't work." she said.  "We have a missionary farewell to go to."
"Oh, I know what!" she went on without taking a breath,  "I'll stop by for just a quick visit before you leave for work tomorrow morning!"
Then it came.
She continued brightly, "I'll have to get up early but it can't be helped. Tomorrow's the last day of the month and I have to "get you" so I can turn in my visiting teaching report."

"Sister, tomorrow before work's really not a good time," I stammered.

"You'll be doing me a big favor," she said, "I'd really appreciate it."  "And since I know how busy mornings can be getting kids off to school, I'll only stay just a minute. Thanks so much. See you at 6:30." She hung up before I could say another word.

I hung up the phone.
Later at 11:00 that night I was mopping.
I was also thinking about visiting teaching.
Tears were streaming down my tired cheeks and dropping onto the dry part of the floor. I leaned over my big belly to wipe them off.
Larry would be home soon, thank goodness. I'd better go heat up some now congealed mac and cheese.
I hoped he wouldn't be too tired to lift some hanging hands and strengthen some weak knees.

Upon reflection I decided that a lot of things were not right on that Thursday night so long ago.
To start with, Christlike attitudes were missing at both ends of that phone call.

I, for one, assumed that I couldn't be honest with someone the Lord had sent to help me.
I didn't even really know the Bishop's wife, had never taken the time to get to know her, but I assumed that she felt herself above me and would judge me.
Now I wonder what she might have said if I had explained my situation that night. Is it possible that she would have understood completely?
I wonder if I missed making a lifelong friend.

But then maybe she too needed to think a bit about the importance of truly knowing and loving the women she was to teach.
And about the monthly reports and where they should fit in as a priority.

Perhaps there's something that we all should keep in our hearts as we fulfill our sacred callings.
Perhaps we should never forget that the programs of the church are put in place to strengthen the members. Not the other way around.

Yes, the spirit was missing in two hearts that evening.
So the purpose of the divinely inspired Visiting Teaching program wasn't realized.

It seems it can't be done witthout love.

I pray that heavenly Father will help me so that it won't happen again.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Messy Fish Was a Big Help

Sometimes a simple story can prove to be a help throughout a lifetime.
Once I was blessed with one quite by accident.

For years I used to play audio tapes in the car on the way to and from school. These were usually church talks and scriptures which made the commute more productive and traffic jams better than just a waste of time.

I remember particularly a church tape made by Brother John Bytheway, a talented and very popular youth speaker.
At least I'm pretty sure that it was Brother Bytheway. I know that I've listened to many of his wonderful talks.
However, with my now sieve-like memory it's hard to be sure of much anymore. It could have been another talented and popular church speaker I suppose.
All I know for certain is that the helpful idea wasn't mine.

In any case, I thank Brother Bytheway, or whomever, for this one thought that's been such a comfort and a caution over the years.
It's prodded me to have patience in my marriage and indeed in all dealings with the opposite sex.
It's the "messy fish" concept.
Here's the main idea as I recall it. With lots of added embellishment probably.
I can't remember.

Suppose that a young woman was having some friends over for a small dinner party.
Included among the guests was her "one true love" with whom she had fond hopes of an eternal relationship. Also invited was her BFF girlfriend and her date for the evening.
This young woman had prepared her most delicious dinner which included a baked fish dish that was "to die for" as they say. She was hoping to show off her domestic skills.
Everything was going well. The table looked beautiful.
She called her guests to sit in the candlelight and began to put the entree on the plates to bring from the kitchen.
Then as she served the last delicate piece of fish, it broke into several pieces on the way from spatula to plate!
Thankfully though, there was no actual harm done. Just appearance. Same delicious taste, same size portion, only broken.
She plated it, covered it artfully with parsley, and brought it to the table with the other beautiful plates. She put it at her own place at the lovely table.
All was delicious and everything went well.

Fast forward to next weekend.
Now "one true love" was showing off his considerable skills at the barbeque grill.
The same people were invited but this time the fish was his renowned marinated and mesquite grilled creation for which he was becoming famous among family and friends.
The rustic outdoor picnic table was perfect for the occasion and a fire pit cast a romantic glow over all.
When the mesquite masterpiece was done, the chef called for the plates to be brought to the grill.
He placed a beautiful piece of fish on each plate. But as he picked up the last one it broke into several small pieces.
Isn't that just the way with fish?
But again, no harm done. Same delicious taste, same size portion, just broken.
He scooped them up.
Then he proudly carried the last two plates to the table where he put the messy fish in front of his intended.
He sat down waiting for the rave reviews.
Everything was delicious and the reviews were indeed raves.

But this time all did not go quite so well.
Now there seemed to be a problem.

The problem was that the young woman's feelings were hurt.
Plus, an additional problem was that he had no idea why her feelings were hurt, and she had no idea that he had no idea.

You see, it never occurred to him that "messy fish" shouldn't be served to a person's true love when there was an unbroken piece to be had.
Or served to any guest for that matter.
It also certainly never crossed his mind that somehow an unbroken fish serving was some sort of love sign.
In his male brain, "messy fish" never had anything to do with love. How could it?
(Perhaps it's the testosterone.)

Then again it never occurred to her that he didn't even notice that one serving was messy. He only noticed same size, same taste.
It also never crossed her mind that it didn't even register with him last week, when he was at her table, that messy fish was not served to a guest, especially him!

To her, serving an imperfect portion when a perfect one was to be had was a sign of disregard and lack of affection.
She certainly would never do such a thing! Especially to her "one true love."
(Estrogen increases brain waves, I believe.)

Well, it turns out that this messy fish thing causes major misunderstanding between the sexes.
"Messy fish" is just a catchphrase, so to speak, for real life situations that occur all the time.
It's too bad too.
Because life would go much more smoothly in the relationship department if men and women would remember a few basic "messy fish" principles.

Like, men and women are different.
They're basically, fundamentally, not identical.
They see life from a different place.
Not a "wrong" place either.  Just another one.

For instance, some things are really important to a woman's very identity which men barely recognize.
Things like the skill and grace with which she treats guests.
Or the appearance of her home.
For instance, comfortable chairs are good but do they co-ordinate tastefully?
Has she used intelligence and care to create a lovely sanctuary for those who live with her?
Is the paint color just right?
Then too, is the appearance of her children up to accepted local standards?
Strangely, even the appearance of a husband who is usually a grown-up can often affect her personally.

Yes, I am aware of what century this is.
And I do know that women do much of the world's most important work and have many weighty matters on their minds.
I can only call it like I see it.
And I'll bet that lady judge you had dealings with last week made her 6 year old son change his shirt before he left for school just because it didn't match his pants. He didn't understand because he'd already put on a clean one like she'd told him. This stuff starts young.

In fact I was reminded of this strange phenomenon just the other day when one of my daughters asked yet again, "Ma, how come you let Dad go around needing a haircut?"
In my defense I had tried to talk him into getting one the day before, to no avail by the way.
And yet no one has ever asked Larry in his entire lifetime, "Hey Buddy, why haven't you done something about your wife's hairdo?"

This subject also brings to mind one of the first dates I ever had with husband Larry.
Which coincidentally included my first "messy fish" experience with him.

He was a big deal college student and I was still in high school. So I was thrilled when he invited me to attend something called, "Winter Nationals."
This turned out to be some sort of gosh-awful drag racing event held at a horrible, dusty, windblown track out in the scorpion infested Arizona desert boondocks.
I had never heard of it.
Larry and his buddies loved it.

It was a daylong affair so I had graciously offerred to pack a picnic lunch.
Then, despite my youth, I carefully prepared potato salad, fried chicken, and chocolate cupcakes. Our lovely picnic was packed with color co-ordinated paper goods in an attractive wicker picnic basket.

Lunchtime came and Larry said he was indeed hungry.
Yet he remained on the crowded bleachers, eyes and ears glued to those crazy, ear splitting "dragster" races.
I was puzzled.
What about our picnic?
He asked me to just bring it to him.
So I did.

I handed a beautiful plate up.
There, artfully arranged and garnished, was the potato salad, fried chicken, sweet pickles and two kinds of olives, (one with pimento), along with two color coordinated napkins. I was saving the cupcakes for dessert. Chocolate, because I had learned it was his favorite.  I prefer vanilla.

He stopped race watching long enough to look at his lunch.
An expression spread over his face which said, "Is this something from another planet?"
Then he gazed in embarrassment around the crowded bleachers filled with his buddies.
He hurried down the bleachers, trying to hide the food. Then he said in a frantic whisper, "I thought you were bringing bologna sandwiches and a bag of chips!"

After all these years, when that memory comes to mind, it still stings.
And afterward I begin to question the wisdom of certain choices I've made in my life.

But then I remember it's just the "messy fish" thing.

You see, sometimes it's odd what's tied to a woman's deepest feelings.
Sometimes not appreciating them can mean the same as not appreciating her.
Men would be wise to take note. They'd be even wiser to figure out what some of those "oddities" are.

And women may be wise to understand that just because men don't get it doesn't mean they don't love them.

Issues like whether or not his "Surprise!" visiting mother had the good towels or the camp towels to use in the guest bathroom is a case in point.

Imagine a phone call advising an unplanned in-law visit on a lazy Saturday.
The family frantically runs around trying to clean up before the doorbell rings. Husband is advised to put clean towels in the guest bathroom while wife does skilled housekeeping. So he does what he's told.
He gets clean towels
Towels are for drying off.

He didn't understand that they are also a sign to his mother of whether or not his wife is a competent human being.
He didn't get it that putting ratty, unmatched, camp towels from the dryer for his mother to use in the guest bath when the good towels are right there in the cupboard, was showing lack of support for all the things that his wife does to make a good life for him and his children.
Children for which she risked her life to bear for him by the way.

He didn't understand that putting ratty camp towels in the guest bath was stabbing his wife in the back when she was counting on him to cover it instead.

He put clean towels in the guest bathroom, he explained after he figured out that he'd done something really bad, which took a while.
"They were clean!" he yelled.
He really thought it was just about drying off.
What an idiot!

Yes, "Messy fish" is a big idea.
A sincere thanks to Brother Bytheway or whomever for it.
It certainly deserves some careful consideration by both sexes.

Figuring it out, or at least factoring it in, may turn out to be a tremendous help in life.