More than a plate of cookies

Over the years, I’ve gone in and out of phase with my like of visiting teaching. In the last two years, I’ve tried to be a better member of the Relief Society, by actually being a visiting teacher. There were some years here in the recent past where I was not a visiting teacher for various reasons. But when I felt the spirit nudge me to call the Relief Society President of our ward, and tell her I could do it again, I did. It was a really overwhelming thing for me, even though I felt I could do go and serve. Following that direction from the Holy Spirit has taught me that indeed the Lord does provide a way for us to do the things he asks us to do, just like he did with Nephi, and Moses, and Noah and so many others.

Back when I was still a single gal, fresh out of college, and freshly back in Mesa, AZ, after living in Provo and BYU for 3 years, where my visiting teacher was my roommate, and the sisters we taught lived five steps next door, I was in a big singles’ ward with a lot of people I didn’t know, and who frankly, scared me to death most of the time. I was also working for The Devil at a personal injury law firm, and making exactly .25 cents more per hour than I had made working at the MTC Mailroom, which was a job I actually liked. That job, in the bowels of the shark, and pit of hell, taught me a lot, but this post is not about that job, another day I’ll write about that job and the lessons I learned there.

This post is about that big singles ward and visiting teaching, and I why I don’t like dropping cookies off instead of having a visiting teaching visit, and especially why I don’t like just leaving a plate of cookies in the month of December with the sisters I’ve been asked to visit.

I had been assigned two visiting teachers in that big scary singles’ ward. They were very nice girls, and I cannot stress that enough. They were VERY nice, so this is not meant as slam on them. However, they were a bit clueless about visiting teaching. Every month they would drop a plate of cookies and a note. That’s all. They never came in to visit. They never talked to me more than a few minutes at church, and since Mesa is so big, I never saw them outside of church.

I was busy and overwhelmed with my job in the bowels of the shark and pit of hell. The Devil kept me busy, very, very, busy. That December, I crossed The Devil the wrong way one day. I had done something, unknowingly wrong. He called me into his office and dressed me down in front of another Devil for this sin of omission. I walked out of that office in tears, and shaking, to my own little corner, and closed the door. I knew I had to quit my job, that day, but I didn’t know how. And I was scared to go and face The Devil again.

He took care of it for me though. A few hours later, he called me into his office, and fired me. It was 11 days before Christmas and I was fired. I gathered my things, and he gave me a small severance check and I left this hell, not knowing what to do, but feeling strangely at peace with it all.

I got home from work 2 hours early, so obviously my family knew something was wrong. I told them what had happened, and we all had a good cry, of joy mostly, that I was free of this job. But I still didn’t have a job, and it was 11 days before Christmas. I had no money, I had no prospects and I was scared of the future.

And then I saw it …. a plate of cookies with a note, from my visiting teachers. The note read, “It’s been super awesome getting to know you this year! Have a Merry Christmas!!!”

I get it, it’s the thought that counts. But they had never even set foot in my house. They had never even had a proper conversation with me. They had not gotten to know me that year. All they had ever done was bring cookies. I was tired of cookies. I needed a friend. I needed to talk. I just wanted someone to share my burdens that day.

I threw those dumb cookies in the trash and ripped up the note, and cried some more. This time, though, I cried tears of hurt. I felt like all I was worth was a plate of cookies to them, and that hurt deeply.

The following Sunday, they saw me in the hall at church and approached me. “Did you get our cookies?” I took a deep breath and contemplated my answer. I was about to be honest.

“Yes, yes I did. But, can I ask you a favor? Please do not come to me ever again, if all you are going to do is drop me a plate of cookies. The day you left those cookies, I was fired from my job. I needed a visit that day. I don’t want anymore cookies. I just want a friend. You have never actually come in to my home and paid me a visit, you don’t know me at all. All you have ever done is leave cookies. I’m tired of cookies. And you have hurt my feelings.” And walked away, out the door and got in my car and went home.

I share this story, not to shame them, although, at the time, that was my intention when I left them standing in the church hall. I share this story as a reminder to myself that I have to sacrifice my time and myself to be a good visiting teacher, because I don’t want anyone to feel like I think they are only worth a plate of cookies.

I struggle with interpersonal relationships sometimes. Am I too overbearing? Do I keep my tongue in check? Am I slow to anger? Am I patient? Am I being annoying and too opinionated? These questions are always on the train of thought that runs thru my mind every day. I also don’t feel like I am one of those ladies they tell stories about in General Conference, who radiates goodness, kindness, and rainbows. And I have never had a promoting from the Holy Spirit saying, “Betty needs dinner and a babysitter today.” I am not crafty, nor do I make cute hand outs or doo-dads to give to my sisters. It’s hard to go with little kids as well. It seems like my children are especially adept at tearing up peoples’ houses. And we all can agree that, this is bad visiting teaching form. I never remember to prepare a spiritual message either, and the ones in the Ensign rarely inspire me.

But I go.

And yes, there are months that I miss. And there have been times when I have dropped a dreaded plate of cookies. However, I try not to do that. And I don’t want to make anyone feel guilty if they’ve done that, or are doing that, this month. This is not about guilt.

The point I want to make is this, it’s December, and it’s the holiday season. The sisters we serve might be struggling for various reasons. I know I struggle with enjoying the holidays and even wanting to participate in things during December. It’s a very hard time of year for me, even when I haven’t been fired from my job! I want to challenge everyone, and myself, and even the guys reading this, to pray and ponder on the people we’ve been asked to visit and home teach. Is there more we can do for them? Is there comfort we can give them, or a burden we can help bear up? Are there weak knees we can strengthen, and weary hands we can hold this holiday season? Have we shared our testimonies with them? Do they know we love them, and that the Lord loves them most? Do they know they are important?

This is my reminder to myself, everyone is worth more than a plate of cookies — although cookies and treats are nice anytime of year — I can always do more. Think, ponder, pray, and then serve the people we’ve been given stewardship over, especially in December. The Lord can and will provide a way for us to do this, because He loves all of His children, and we are all important and precious to Him.

19 thoughts on “More than a plate of cookies

  1. When I was a young stay-at-home mother, the thing I needed most from my VTs was a grown-up conversation about something of importance. Luckily, I got what I needed. An intelligent conversation about gospel ideas was so nourishing (particularly so for the new convert that I was)! So, my advice regarding Visit Teaching has always been: don’t leave the gospel message out of Visit Teaching! It’s really the main course.

  2. Val, I’m at that very point in my life. I love my VTs for that very reason. They come and we have a grown up conversation every month, and I love that.

  3. I’m too busy for visiting teachers. Back when I had them, I felt like weeping for joy if they were willing to just check in on me and drop off a plate of cookies. Or, even better, a phone call without the cookies.

    Now, my HT and VT are the same couple, which means I must only make time once per month. Happy medium. And I have no companion and my only real VT-ee is my inactive neighbor, who is already a friend.

    So in my mind, it should be about being willing to hear what the person actually needs from you and doing it.

  4. SR — yes, exactly! I’m glad you get a visit too. We have older couples in our ward that are also combined HT/VT for some people. I think it works for these folks.

  5. Sorry you had such a bad experience. It seems to have really bothered you.

    This post reminded me of something that happened in my ward a few weeks ago. A woman in Relief Society taught a lesson about service and told a story about an anonymous sister who was assigned to bring her family dinner, and somewhat brusquely dropped off a tray and left. She explained how this was a bad example they should all avoid.

    Sadly, that anonymous sister was my wife, who was sitting in the back. She went up to the teacher after the lesson, in tears, apologizing and explaining how hectic her schedule had been that day, and how stressed she’d been by a variety of disappointments and responsibilities on her mind at the time. She hadn’t meant to be rude at all, and felt awful about it. The teacher, alas, seemed unimpressed.

    My point is that, in the church, we always need to be careful to give the benefit of the doubt.

    I have no idea, obviously, if my anecdote applies to your experience at all. Was your VT flippantly going through the motions, or striving to do her best in spite of challenges of which none of us are aware? In the absence of an emotional interview, there’s no way to know.

    Not to be unsympathetic to you, though. Sometimes we all have hard days, as you clearly did that day, and we need to be succored. We might need to be ministered to more than we need to minister. I don’t want to call anyone out for a possible lack of compassion because she called out someone else for a possible lack of compassion! (Oh, the irony!)

  6. Joyce, I think you make a good point, which is that VT is about much more than just checking off a box and saying you did a visit. This is a good reminder that applies to everything we do in the Church, and clearly these women were just checking off the box. On the other hand, they obviously did not intend to offend. It is probably a good idea to just give people like this the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps, as they say, they didn’t understand what VT was all about?

  7. Hurtson, sorry that, that happened to your wife. I would have been mortified.

    To address your points … it did bother me at the time. A lot. But now, I look back on it as a lesson of being better, which was the point of this blog post today. Like I said those girls were very nice girls, and were even after this. In fact, if I were ever to meet them again, I think we’d be friends. I just think they were very young and inexperienced and didn’t remember or realize what they were doing month after month. I should have mentioned, it was an entire YEAR of cookies, and NO visits. I had given them the benefit of the doubt for many months.

    I commented on my facebook, that I think perhaps we need to do a better job of introducing our young women to the Visiting Teaching program, like with do with young men. Young men start home teaching when they are 14, as Teachers, and go with their dads or other brothers from the ward. It might be good for young women to have something like that. Where they go with their moms or an older, more experienced sister and learn the ropes. But that’s just my idea.

  8. I should mention as well, soon after this, I started attending a different YSA ward, one with people who were a bit older, more RMs and college grads among the membership. The new ward was a much better fit for me.

  9. If they were just another plate of those back of the bag tollhouse cookies (made with inferior chocolate) they certainly deserved to be thrown away.

  10. On a less silly note…

    Your story reminds me of what it is to bear others burdens, and how hard that really is. You had serious burdens that needed bearing, and she wasn’t there for you. At the same time, her “burden” was that she was probably to superficial and didn’t know how or want to engage in meaningful companionship with those around her.

    I’m not trying to find fault (because really we’re all at fault), but I suppose the ideal response would have been to try to step out of your burdens and gently bear her superficiality as best as you were able. This would be the way, I suppose, a disciple of Christ would try to respond. And it also highlights how utterly we are all lacking, as I also would most likely find myself responding in the way you did under those circumstances.

    There are times when all of us should respond with a little less justification in our actions toward others and try to see the slights, insults, offenses, absences or other misgivings of others as tragic reflections of the natural man that we are sorry to see in others and hope to persuade them to come to see things as they really are for themselves.

    Sorry for the tangent… all that’s easier said than done, and these are just my thoughts on what it really means to bear someone’s burdens when you get right down to it in our every day interactions with each other. I often look at the way the Brethren (attempt to) teach us conference after conference in this way. They could certainly rain down a lot of justifiable rhetoric and action on us. But instead, they internal bear with the fact that we’re often a bunch of schmucks and they just keep patiently teaching us what we should know and do.

  11. Thank you for your thoughtful writing. Visiting teaching can be a joy or a curse. It is rarely, at least in my life, something that is simple. I enjoyed reading the ending of the article the most. How wonderful it would be if we could all learn to do things that would help turn every job we do in the church into one that edifies all the parties involved.

  12. @chris: “… the fact that we’re often a bunch of schmucks …”

    Amen, brutha.

    @JA: Your story reminds me of the Lords’s instructions on how to handle offenses, Matt 18:15–16, and D&C 42:88–89.

    I think there is some kind of balance that we need to seek between being forbearing, long-suffering and forgiving on one hand, and on the other hand going to the other person in private and saying “Lookit, you’re really t-ing me off by doing such-and-such.”

    I’ve learned that if I don’t confront the other person after 2 or 3 offenses, a precedent has been established, and when I finally reach my limit and do have to confront them, _they_ get offended because I no longer tolerated their behavior as in the past, or they get offended that I waited so long and “allowed” them to keep on offending.

    There was even something in the Law of Moses (don’t have the scripture reference) that said that when a person had a knowledge of a brother violating the law, you were supposed to warn or explain to your brother what he was doing wrong and how to do it right.

    It’s a delicate balancing act, knowing what personal offenses you can let slide, versus the kind of thing that will eventually cause you to explode and be unrighteous in your confrontation of the individual.

    I note that in the 2 scripture passages that I referenced, the Lord doesn’t specify “an” offense, or a “sin” on the part of the other person, but rather “if thy brother shall trespass against _thee_”. D&C 42 uses “offend” instead of trespass.

Comments are closed.