The shock was evident — both on her face, and in her voice — as she hung up the phone.
“Sister F. just died,” my friend said.
My friend was Sister F.’s visiting teacher, and the Relief Society President had just called to share the news. (Visiting teachers are often among the first to be informed of things like this.)
And now I — who just happened to be in my friend’s home as her visiting teacher — was part of this poignant moment. We reflected on how fragile life is. (No one expected Sister F. to go; it was her husband whose health was failing.) I couldn’t help but think of my former visiting teaching companion who had sat by me month after month, sharing messages of faith and chatting on this same couch with our friend. This companion died a year and a half ago. I still miss her fiercely.
The following Sunday, our Relief Society President stood and tearfully held up a plant (pictured above). Her visiting teacher had given her the plant when she was first called to be our Relief Society President, as a show of support at an overwhelming time. (Every local congregation has a Relief Society President, who has a great deal of responsibility, caring for the temporal and spiritual welfare of all the women in their congregations.)
Guess who was the visiting teacher who showed such loving support?
It was Sister F.
As our Relief Society President talked tenderly of Sister F. and the love she had shown, I couldn’t help but reflect on how women in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are often present to help and support each other at the crossroads of life. It’s not unusual for visiting teachers and/or other Mormon women in Relief Society to bring meals in when a woman has a baby. Mormon women are there to help families plan funerals when loved ones pass, and they help prepare and serve the traditional family meal after a funeral. (I’ll never forget the impact such service had on me after my grandma died.)
As with Sister F. giving our Relief Society President the plant at a time of transition in her life, visiting teachers work to be aware of the lives of the sisters they serve and try to offer help and support and encouragement.
I have several recent examples from my own life of the way Relief Society sisters seek to serve. I was sick for much of the summer, and I’m facing a surgery here in a few weeks. Through this time, I have received meals and phone calls and emails. Because of my health, I’m unable to attend my ward (mornings are very difficult, so I attend a ward in the afternoon). I’m not sure if that is the reason why (I miss being with my ward family!), but for my birthday, a woman in the ward — I’m not sure who — invited sisters to send email messages of love. I received around two dozen email messages. (And I still have a raincheck for a lunch date with my visiting teachers once I get an appetite back!) Another friend has done so many little things here and there that I feel forever in her debt.
And I could go on.
Sometimes we as Mormons joke about the casseroles and jell-o that are often passed around as Mormon women serve. (Elder Holland, one of our apostles, quipped about this recently, too). To be sure, these things are part of Mormon culture that have come to have some comical quality for us and others.
But, I share Elder Holland’s thoughts:
Smile, if you will, about our traditions, but somehow the too-often unheralded women in this church are always there when hands hang down and knees are feeble. 1 They seem to grasp instinctively the divinity in Christ’s declaration: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these … , ye have done it unto me.”
At another time, I want to talk about the way that Mormon men have used their priesthood service to bless the lives of others, so this notion of help and kindness is certainly not limited to Mormon women.
But I’ll always remember the quiet yet powerful thoughts that came to me as the Relief Society President held up that plant. I think it very significant that Mormon women make it a point to be at significant crossroads of life, particularly those that have deep doctrinal meaning for us as Latter-day Saints. As we support each other as new life enters the world, and seek to mourn with those who mourn the loss of someone who has left the world, I believe we are doing the Lord’s work. I believe it’s about a lot more than casseroles and jell-o.
I also believe that as we seek to be there at other moments in each others’ lives, I think we can sense — and share — the kind of love Heavenly Father and the Savior, Jesus Christ, have for us. And our hearts can be knit together more.
I’m grateful to be a part of a church that encourages this kind of watchcare. I know we as Mormons don’t have the corner on what it means to serve and care for others, and I know we could often do better, but I do think the home and visiting teaching programs are pretty amazing at the core. I’m not sure we who are Latter-day Saints always realize what an impact it can all have.
Reflecting on this makes me want to be a better visiting teacher. It also makes me want to be a better neighbor and friend to others who may not be part of my faith. We all need to know people care.
What have others done to help you in times of need? How could others better help you in your needs? If you are Mormon, what has the home/visiting teaching program meant to you?