I fiddled with the pages of my teacher training folder and wondered irritably if the meeting were going to go on all night. Why does every Church function in the world take hours? I complained under my breath. Doesn’t anybody else ever have other things to do on Tuesday? Besides I’d heard all about the “ninety and nine” at least fourteen times in the last three months. I could even quote the scripture verbatim:
“How think ye? if a man have an hundred sheep, and one of them be gone astray, doth he not leave the ninety and nine, and goeth into the mountains, and seeketh that which is gone astray?
“And if it so be that he find it, verily I say unto you, he rejoiceth more of that sheep, than of the ninety and nine which went not astray.” (Matt. 18:12–13.)
“Isn’t that a little unfair?” I interrupted the teacher.
“What?” She looked up startled. Hardly anyone asked questions during the lesson, including the teacher.
“I mean, the shepherd rejoicing over the one lost sheep. After all, look at all those other ones who stuck it out, stayed in the pasture, and did what they were told. Don’t they get some credit? Are we all just wasting our time doing what we ought to? That verse makes it sound like it’s better to go astray for a while and then come back.”
“No, dear, that’s not the point. The shepherd wasn’t condemning the others by not rejoicing over them; he was just delighted that the lost one was found.”
“Besides,” Julie Larsen added thoughtfully, “the Lord didn’t ask us to be good—he asked us to be perfect. People striving for that goal should be out there with the shepherd looking for the lost lambs, not sitting in the pen thinking smugly about how obedient they are.”
“Well,” I agreed doubtfully, annoyed that Julie always had a fairly convincing answer for everything, “maybe you’re right. Anyway it really isn’t important. I’m not going to leave the Church or anything drastic. I just thought the whole thing sounded kind of funny.” I stopped lamely, feeling slightly put down. Julie may have a lot of answers, I thought spitefully, but she has her share of weaknesses too. Then, closing my mind again to the lesson, I began to worry about getting home.
It had been a long day already. My husband and I had been packing to move from our apartment into a home of our own. It was only a couple of blocks away, but everything still had to be packed up and carted over, then unpacked. The new house was a maze of half-empty boxes and the apartment a maze of half-full ones. I hated disorder and the last couple of days had just about destroyed my carefully cultivated patience. I was tired and edgy and I told myself I had to get home and into bed or I would never get anything done tomorrow. The meeting droned on till finally I stood, mumbled something vague about the children, and left. Julie Larsen stared thoughtfully at me as I left, and I sighed with relief when the door shut behind me.
The house was dark and Jason was asleep when I got home. I stumbled over a dozen boxes piled precariously in the hall and muttered a few unkind words about a husband who turns out all the lights and leaves his wife to find her way in the dark. Then I checked on the kids and tumbled into bed.
The next morning I didn’t feel any better.
“Hon, I can’t get home till eight or so tonight. We’re having our annual sales evaluation meeting and then I have to finish my home teaching,” Jason announced cheerfully at breakfast.
“When do you plan to get the kitchen stuff moved to the new house?” I asked icily. “You were the one who wanted the whole moving mess cleared up by this weekend.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll get a couple of guys in the elders quorum to come over tomorrow and lend a hand.” He kissed the nearest available cheek perfunctorily and hustled out the front door before I could voice any more objections.
“Great,” I said, and sat down to finish my soggy cereal.
It was going to be a lovely day. Sometimes, I thought resentfully, there are more important things than sales meetings and home teaching. Twenty minutes later I was slamming pots and pans into boxes.
After lunch I was still working on the same set of cupboards and getting more and more frustrated. Jason, Jr., had defeated all attempts at training and had gone through five pair of pants in the last three hours. I started to dry the floor. Laura could see I was upset, so with three-year-old charm she had offered to help and ended up breaking the only crystal wedding gift I had that was still intact.
“Sugar,” I snapped, “just leave me alone!” She burst into tears and I lost what small particle remained of my temper.
“All right,” I yelled, “everyone in bed!” Maybe a little silence would help.
When I finally calmed Laura down and convinced Jason not to climb out of his crib for the third time, I went in the junk-ridden living room and turned on a soap opera. Maybe someone else’s problems would make me forget mine. Over and over I told myself nobody cared about me. There was no reason in the world Jason couldn’t take a day off and help watch those kids while I packed. He wasn’t making any effort to help in any other direction either. Tears began sliding down my cheeks. The doorbell rang.
Julie Larsen was on the porch. Just what I needed.
“Come in,” I said dully. I didn’t offer her a chair. I had done everything for the Relief Society this month I intended to and I wasn’t going to be cajoled into anything else.
“You know,” Julie began, “I’ve been worried about you.” I stirred uncomfortably and wondered if my red eyes showed. She sat down gracefully, her eyes never leaving my face. “I know what a hassle moving can be, and I thought it might help if I took your kids home with me this afternoon. My girls love playing with Laura, and Jason can take over the sandbox. Just give me their pajamas and I’ll feed them dinner and bathe them. We’ll bring them home about eight. Would that be okay?”
I was so startled I couldn’t say anything. I just nodded mutely and began gathering pajamas and diapers. As I passed the mirror, I noticed with surprise that my cheeks were covered again with tears. I grinned ruefully. “Well, I guess I do look like a lost lamb,” I said to my reflection.