I was 40 the first time I ate “buffalo wings.” Such spicily prepared chicken wings had never been a part of my diet, but when you’re a Relief Society president, you experience many new things. I still remember the spicy taste of the wings, but what is even more vivid in my memory is the beautiful sister who introduced them to me.
The phone rang that morning—as it did many mornings—just as I was walking out the door. Surely it meant someone needed a ride somewhere or a meal delivered or a listening ear. But this morning was going to be different. I was determined to accomplish everything on my list. Christmas was approaching, and I had gifts to buy, decorations to find, and treats to make. Just this once, couldn’t this be my day and no one else’s?
After all, I have needs too, I reasoned as the phone continued to ring. Why shouldn’t I put myself first for a change? I spend so much time thinking about and serving others.
Ultimately, I answered the phone with an impatient “Hello,” hoping the caller would perceive I had things to do and could not be detained long.
After being greeted by a tender voice on the other end, I felt myself sink in embarrassment. My abruptness wasn’t really part of my character, and I knew that the caller, Maria Gonzales*, a sister fairly new in our ward, would never address me in such a brusque manner.
I softened, put my keys on the counter, and prepared to listen to Sister Gonzales. I knew a bit about her story: she was recently baptized and frequently had to leave her house to escape her husband’s drunken tirades and verbal abuse. As I glanced at the clock, I wondered what the problem was this morning.
“I’ve just been shopping,” she explained softly. “I bought some buffalo wings and wondered if I could bring them over for lunch. I have plenty for both of us.”
There was a pause. Oh, why today? I wondered. There are so many things I want to do, and I have to be back by 2:30 P.M. to meet the school bus. Buffalo wings! Why would I want to eat buffalo wings? And who has time for lunch anyway?
“I promise not to stay long,” Sister Gonzales continued. “I know you’re busy.”
I could hear the unhappiness in her voice, and I berated myself for not being more compassionate. “Why, yes, of course,” I replied. “I’d love to have buffalo wings with you. I’ll make the lemonade. Come on over.”
Sister Gonzales arrived with the little white bag of buffalo wings, and I let no time waste before we were blessing the food. I marveled at the aroma and taste and graciously played hostess, hoping she wouldn’t notice my glancing at the clock.
We chatted idly, and she briefly talked about her life as a little girl with sick, elderly parents. “I really spent most of my time taking care of them,” she observed. “I didn’t have any friends.”
We talked a bit about the upcoming holidays, and again her childhood memories came to the surface. “We never had much money,” she said. “We didn’t celebrate Christmas because there was never enough money for gifts or a tree. I never had a new dress or a new pair of shoes; I wore hand-me-downs or items we bought at secondhand stores.”
Maria then talked about how worried she was that her young daughter wouldn’t have Christmas this year. “I put some clothes on layaway, but I don’t think we’ll have the money to get them out in time.”
Although I sympathized, it wasn’t until Maria mentioned how lonely she was in the ward that I was moved to compassion.
“I’m having such a hard time,” she admitted. “I’m the only Hispanic sister in the ward, and I’m still learning about the gospel. I feel so alone, so lonely.”
Suddenly the buffalo wings lost their taste, and the clock stood still. Sister Gonzales put her head down on the table and sobbed. “Oh, Carol! I need a friend so much!”
Meeting the school bus and taking care of my own errands didn’t seem important anymore. Showing Maria I cared and letting her know she wasn’t alone were the most important things I could do.
“We’re going shopping,” I said. “You have a sewing machine, and you know how to sew. We’ll find some material so you can make some clothes for Christmas.” Here was a solution to at least one of Maria’s problems.
As we prepared to leave, I gathered the wrappings and napkins and, of course, the little white bag that now contained the bare bones of buffalo wings. As I glanced down at the bag, I was taken aback by the price sticker attached to it—$10.49.
Money was scarce for Maria. Did she need me so much that she had opened her change purse to buy something she wouldn’t normally have purchased just so she could have a friend for a day?
My heart sank as I remembered how close I had come to not answering the phone. Thank you, Heavenly Father, I prayed silently, that I was able to be here for Maria when she needed me. Please help me to be here for others too.
Maria and I were off. We did find some solutions to her Christmas dilemma, and she even found some lovely crafts she could make for the sisters she met with as a visiting teacher.
But even more important than the shopping was the companionship. Maria and I talked for hours. I returned from our outing tired but gratified for having truly helped someone in need—not out of obligation as a leader, but as a friend. During my time with Maria, I understood better the marvelous words of Matthew 25:40 [Matt. 25:40]: “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
When my husband came home that evening, I greeted him with a kiss. “So did anything exciting happen today?” he asked. I answered him in one sentence: “The Savior called on the phone today, and I almost didn’t answer.”