I wasn’t sure I had actually heard the doorbell ring that frantic day. I called to the children to play more quietly, picked up the baby before he knocked over someone’s blocks, and climbed the stairs to check the door. As I went, I muttered under my breath how impossible it was for anyone to catch up on housework when the house was full of children.
I opened the door to see a stack of neatly folded laundry. There were legs below it, arms holding it, and eyes above it. But the pile of laundry was so tall that it took me a minute to figure out whom those arms, legs, and eyes belonged to.
“Helen!” I cried. “What—what are you …” Then I recognized the laundry. It was mine! I was flabbergasted. “What are you doing with my laundry? I was going to come and take it off the line pretty soon. What happened?”
She explained as I unloaded her arms: “My husband is going to mow the lawn, then turn on the sprinklers. I was afraid grass clippings and water might blow over onto these nice clean things, so I brought them in for you.”
“But you could have told me,” I objected. “I could have taken care of them. You didn’t need to do it. And you’ve folded everything so nicely—much better than I ever do. It’s embarrassing.” I continued to object, going on and on about how I’m a very independent person who doesn’t ever want to be a burden on anyone else, how I can take care of myself, and how I don’t need to be waited on.
She listened with a patient smile, but finally said simply: “Sandra, I could hear the children playing, and I knew you already had your hands full. It was no problem.”
“Yes, but …” And I started again with my prideful arguments.
“Listen,” she interrupted. “Every day I pray that the Lord will lead me to someone I can help. When I saw those clothes on the line and heard my husband’s plans, I knew my prayers today had been answered. Please don’t deny me the chance to help.”
That stopped me. I realized how ungracious I was being. I thanked her, finally admitting that I really had been swamped and didn’t know when I would have had a chance to take those clothes down. She had done a fine thing for me, and I did appreciate it.
Many times since then, I have been reminded of this dear friend who prayed every morning to know how best to help someone. The gift she gave me that afternoon was far greater than a stack of folded laundry. She helped me gain a new perspective on the Savior’s great message of love, as well as on the meaning of compassionate service.
Helen never did talk about any of her good deeds, but I heard about them from others at various times. She would take flowers from her own garden to a sick neighbor. (Her garden itself was a service rendered to anyone who passed, for its beauty could brighten anyone’s day.) Sometimes she would offer to watch a young mother’s children for an hour. Or she would make sure that a neighbor had a ride to church. Many times she cared for someone who was confined to bed. For Helen, each instance was a matter of prayer and love and caring.
Sometimes, as I have read in Church magazines about people who have performed outstanding deeds of service or sacrifice, I have thought how nice it would be to do something so grand that someone would write about it and print it for everyone to read.
I came close one Christmas: I decided to do something really spectacular—bake special Christmas treats for all my neighbors. In my anxiety to do this wonderful thing, I’m afraid I neglected my family a little. But as the children and I delivered our Christmas treats, we felt quite pleased with ourselves.
That night I noticed a strange spot on my son’s neck. The next morning, he was completely covered with them. To my horror, I realized that this son—who had been my biggest “helper” in baking and delivering those Christmas treats—had chicken pox! I could only pray that my prideful Christmas gift had not caused a local epidemic.
My prayers were answered; the pox did not spread through the neighborhood. But I have noticed since then that when I try to do a good deed out of pride—because it might impress someone else—it somehow backfires.
I have learned that it’s much more rewarding to follow Helen’s example—to prayerfully and quietly ask the Lord where I am really needed and then to serve quietly. The Lord’s blessings come with doing his work, and his blessings are without end.