HILDEGARD: I remember the basement being a grand staging area for Mom’s beautiful projects, some of which were for Relief Society fundraising back in the days of bazaars and actual Homemaking meeting. A “bazaar” sounded so exotic! And Mom sure seemed excited to participate. Alight with a child’s enthusiasm during the Christmas season, I watched as she magicked together beautiful things to contribute to the event–whatever it actually was. I’d learn when I was older.
But I don’t remember what specific, exciting projects were for the Relief Society bazaars, because I didn’t see those projects again. I saw the casserole carrier and quilts that remained and helped our family. I remember a stained-glass angel–one of her projects that came out yearly and reminded me of her creative magic, long put aside in favor of the more utilitarian domestic magic of managing older children with school schedules.
And I remember her efforts at visiting teaching. I remember her taking dinners and gifts to her visiting teaching sisters and their families, and I remember the strange combination of solemnity and joy that filled our home as she helped prepare to meet the needs of new mothers and their babies. Like the world of bazaars, it was a world I could sense but not touch, because children and our noise and our germs needed to stay out of the way of new moms and babies–the mystical world of women and vital things.
Someday that would be my world. I envisioned a grand initiation where I’d learn the mysteries of womanhood. I’d finally be able to understand and help other women in ways that counted.
That initiation never really came. But I eagerly awaited my eighteenth birthday, when I’d finally be able to join the ranks of Visiting Teachers–these wise women who nourished each other and met to discuss adult things.
When my turn to join Relief Society finally arrived, I was heading off to college. And each year, we had our visiting teaching assignments distributed and swung by each other’s dorm rooms to chat–often awkwardly–and share the prescribed monthly message. It wasn’t exactly magical. None of us “needed anything” from each other, nor did we have much to offer, so our connections were largely perfunctory, discarded immediately afterward in favor of friends, boyfriends, or study groups.
Fast forward through graduation and a couple years of independence, to life as a young married LDS female in a family ward. No longer limited to companions within a year or two of my own age, I relished the opportunity to visit with our sisters and do something–anything–to be helpful. But these women seemed to have things under control; they didn’t need anything, either.
And to be fair, I never needed anything from my own visiting teachers. I didn’t want to bother them, and things were going just fine. And I didn’t know them well enough to come up with anything they could do to help when they made that ritual offering. I was a self-sufficient person, not accustomed to needing things, and I was honestly at a loss for ways anyone else could serve me.
Then my sister-in-law and I were assigned as companions. That was a wonderful time. We got to know our sisters and each other through genuine conversation, and even though there was generally nothing we could do to help them, we understood that our being there was important to our sisters. That visit was what they needed.
But where was this mystical, magical, sisterly support I’d seen and heard from one side of phone conversations?
Years and a few moves later, our families had taken different paths and we ended up in an apartment complex. As it turned out, one of the sisters assigned to my companion and me was my next-door neighbor. And our walls were thin.
I felt instantly inadequate, because we had a relatively loud five-year-old and a new baby; there was no way we were ideal neighbors for this sister. What if she heard my kids’ noise? What if she heard my scolding? She had to know we weren’t perfect and put-together. How can I be a respectable visiting teacher when I obviously can’t keep my children civilized?
As it turned out, she understood. Her life wasn’t perfect, either. We–or at least I–looked forward to our visits as breaks in her busy schedule, and adult conversation time for me.
One day, I got a knock at the door. “Could I borrow a cup of sugar? And an egg?” My heart practically jumped out of my chest. “Of course! Come on in for a minute.”
I padded into the kitchen and gathered the ingredients, then handed them over with a thrill tightening my throat. “Thank you! Have fun! And feel free to come back if there’s anything else!” We had the sort of relationship where my sister felt she could ask for what she needed. There was something she genuinely needed and something I could do to genuinely help, and it was beautiful.
Since that day, through more of life’s typical changes, I’ve tried to listen specifically for ways we can serve our sisters and ease their burdens, even in seemingly-little ways. Life is chock-full of little problems we can occasionally solve. And I’ve tried to accept my own visiting teachers’ efforts to get to know me and find ways to help me with my little problems. Sometimes I succeed, and sometimes not.
So when the Relief Society leadership came out recently with a revision to the Visiting Teaching program that largely dispenses with assigned messages in favor of cultivating personal relationships and service, my heart jumped for joy again.
I am glad for the program’s focus to finally, officially, be on learning and doing what my sisters need. That’s the vital, healing, working magic I saw as a child, and it’s how I want to serve.
Sisters Quorum exists to give voice to those who are not being heard and is seeking submissions. If you have a story to tell, please visit our submission page for guidelines.
Please like and follow Sisters Quorum on Facebook. You can find us by clicking here.