Their Message Bore Fruit

It was late March 1977. I had hurried home from my job as a school teacher in order to plant strawberries. The sky darkened ominously as the dusky clouds piled themselves into a menacing thunderhead. I was anxious to get my strawberry plants out of the refrigerator and into the warm earth before the Storm broke, for in southern Arizona rain is precious and welcome. It meant, too, that I would not have to irrigate the strawberries after planting, but could let nature do the job for me.

As I planted, I congratulated myself on my good fortune, and dreamed happily of the tangy scarlet fruit which I would harvest in June. But a glance at the sky told me that I must hurry if I did not want to receive a thorough drenching along with the plants. I stepped up my pace. Perspiring, I wiped my brow with my forearm, leaving a long muddy streak on my face. My clothing was covered with dirt and I smelled like the fish fertilizer I was using. I suddenly recognized how I must have looked—and smelled—when I saw, coming across the field toward me, two little old ladies—my visiting teachers.

Although I had been inactive in the Church for nearly a year, I had always allowed the visiting teachers into my home. I must confess that often I considered them something of a nuisance, for though their manners were always kind and polite, their very presence reminded me that I was not living up to my beliefs. A life-threatening illness and other family problems had left me bitter and resentful toward my Heavenly Father, and it was impossible for me to explain these feelings to them.

Looking back, I don’t think I fooled them; but they were never critical or judgmental. Arriving every third Wednesday like clockwork, they bore their testimonies, encouraged me, praised my child, and often brought some home-baked goody. My frequent coldness never deterred them, and my biting remarks went unregarded. Month after month they came, never failing, always showing love.

Today, however, I would have to be firm. I resolved to tell them that I did not have time to listen to them. But I was never to have that chance. Wearing their Sunday best, complete with nylon stockings, each of my visiting teachers got down on her knees in that strawberry patch. My mouth was still hanging open as Sister Batty began to read the monthly message while Sister Costner began planting strawberries beside me.

I resumed my planting also, and it was not long before great heavy rain drops began to pelt us and make small craters in the dust. Still we planted, and still Sister Batty read on. I don’t remember what the official message was, but I was grateful that it was raining hard enough to hide the flood of tears that ran down my face as I received a message, not of word, but of deed—a message of love, unselfishness, and devotion. A message that would literally bear fruit.

By the time the last plant was nestled into the earth, we were all drenched. I invited them in for a moment, but they declined, saying that they still had stops to make, as if they were not wet at all. They then produced a fragrant loaf of banana bread from the back seat of their car and drove away, leaving me to marvel at their dauntless spirits.

Years have passed since that blustery day in March. Those fine sisters do not know it, but their unfaltering love worked a miracle in my life. Through their example I was able to yield up my bitterness and again seek the blessings that come through active Church membership. I cannot eat a strawberry or hear the words “visiting teaching” without thinking of those dear sisters on their knees in my garden. And I cannot examine my life without thanking my Heavenly Father for their faithfulness. J. Elaine Lattimore, Greenwood, Indiana

[illustration] Illustrated by Scott Snow