Jessica stood on the sidewalk outside Sister Richards’s house, straddling her bike and staring with uncertainty at an open side gate that led to the Richardses’ backyard. Planting a summer garden wasn’t at the top of her list of fun things to do on an already-too-hot Saturday morning. In fact, it wasn’t anywhere on her list!
Besides, she told herself, she had never gardened in her life and had rarely attended Sister Richards’s Valiant 9 Primary class. She barely knew the others in the class, and when she did go to church, one of them—Karlie—never seemed to want to even be seen with her.
She wondered why she had said yes when Sister Richards invited her to help plant the vegetable garden. It was to be a service project, and what was grown would be shared with others in the neighborhood.
“If only it was something other than planting and tending a garden!” Jessica thought as she started to turn her bike around. She liked to help others, “but there will be other chances to—”
Jessica saw Karlie approaching. Karlie’s eyes avoided Jessica’s as she rode through the side gate.
As Jessica again started to turn her bike around, something else stopped her. This time it was her Primary teacher’s voice. “Jessica! I’m so glad you’ve come. We’re just about ready to start planting.”
“If only Sister Richards’s smile wasn’t so kind and genuine,” Jessica thought, “I could tell her I’ve changed my mind about wanting to help.”
“Everyone is here, dear,” her Primary teacher went on. “Tyler, Karlie, Daniel, Joseph, Allie, and Michael. For a couple of them, Jessica, it’s a first—the first time they’ve come to a Primary activity.” She winked as if sharing it in confidence. “I think they’re curious.” As Jessica hesitated, Sister Richards added, “All you need for our project is a caring heart and willing hands, and I happen to know that you have both.”
In the backyard, Jessica saw a nicely cultivated, rich-soiled plot of earth surrounded by children. She found herself recalling other words Sister Richards had said: “The Savior spent his whole life helping others. He even died for us. His message is as simple as the sacred hymn that declares it: ‘As I have loved you, Love one another’ (Children’s Songbook, 136).”
One afternoon a few weeks later, Jessica and Karlie found themselves on their knees side by side, thinning and weeding the tender, sprouting plants. Jessica came across a large weed that stubbornly held its place among young cornstalks. Try as she might, she could not pull it out. Suddenly Karlie grasped it, too. With one united tug, they jerked it out of the ground.
They giggled as they fell backward, their laughter dissolving into quiet, affectionate looks as they suddenly understood why they had avoided each other before. They simply had not known enough about each other to feel comfortable. Jessica flicked a piece of dirt off Karlie’s face, realizing as she did that they might become good friends. She smiled at Karlie.
“Are you going to Primary this Sunday?” Karlie asked.
Jessica smiled again. “Me, too.”
As the two girls brushed dirt off each other, Tyler stopped and blinked sweat from his eyes, and Michael paused to examine a blister. Sister Richards winked as she paraphrased a Book of Mormon scripture, “God will consecrate our afflictions for our gain (2 Ne. 2:2).”
Tyler grinned as he said, “Some cold lemonade would also help our afflictions. Hint, hint.”
“I’ll show you affliction!” Daniel playfully flung a handful of weeds at Tyler. Tyler tossed a few thinned carrots back at Daniel, but they missed and rained on Michael instead. By the time Sister Richards began to sprinkle them with a hose, everyone else had joined in.
As Jessica laughingly stepped back from the fun-filled fray to catch her breath, she found herself thinking back to that first, uneasy Saturday when she had straddled her bike in front of Sister Richards’s house. “So much has changed since then!” she thought. “Lots of things have grown, not just the vegetables. Our group has grown, too, because we’ve invited our other friends, and some of them aren’t even Church members. …”
“Are you all right, honey?” Sister Richards joined Jessica. “You look so far away.”
Jessica smiled at her Primary teacher. “I’m very all right, Sister Richards. I was just thinking. I didn’t know I could ever feel this good about what we’re doing.”
“You mean about taking time out for a little fun?”
“No—about planting and growing a sharing garden. And all our friends coming, too, and not just here but to Primary! And do you know what? That feeling keeps getting bigger, just like that corn over there.”
Sister Richards pulled Jessica close to her. Jessica looked up and saw that Sister Richards was crying.
Tyler and Lindsey, who was a longtime friend of Jessica’s and who was not a member of the Church, stopped playing upon seeing Sister Richards wipe her eyes. “We’re sorry, Sister Richards,” Tyler apologized. “We’ll stop horsing around and—”
“No, no, Tyler, it’s not that.” Not wanting to break Jessica’s confidence, Sister Richards simply said, “Haven’t you ever gotten anything in your eye before?”
A few short weeks later, as they picked, cleaned, and placed ripe vegetables into baskets for neighbors, Daniel paused to fan his hot face with a towel. Sister Richards told him with a grin, “The seeds of service are watered by the sweat of labor.” Daniel rolled his eyes and then grinned back.
Jessica smiled, thinking, “Yes, Sister Richards really does have a way with words.”
The group placed their produce in two worn red wagons and started down the street. At one stop, they made their way up a little flowered walkway to the door of an elderly widow. The house was small and seemed forlorn. When the door opened, Jessica and the others offered the old woman a small sack with several different vegetables in it. The smile of sweet surprise that rippled across her wrinkled face squeezed tears not only from her eyes but from some of the children’s as well.
As they started back down the walkway, Tyler told Joseph, who had playfully poked him, “What’s the matter, haven’t you ever gotten anything in your eye before—like ‘the sweat of labor’?”
One afternoon after giving away that day’s harvest, the empty wagons rattling behind them, Sister Richards started to sing, “‘By this shall men know Ye are my disciples—’”
The children helped her finish it, “‘If ye have love One to another.’”
Sister Richards asked them, “So how do you feel?”
Michael fanned his face with his hand. “It’s hot, but I still feel good.”
“Doing good makes you feel good,” Allie reasoned aloud, “no matter what else doesn’t.”
“And right now”—Tyler grinned at his Primary teacher—“I believe some of your cold lemonade will make feeling good feel even better!”
Sister Richards grinned back at Tyler as she ruffled his hair. “Such wisdom for one so young!”
“We have asked everyone wherever possible to assist with a home garden … so you may enjoy the efforts of your labors and help provide for your needs. We urge … boys and girls [to] share in helping with the garden.” President Spencer W. Kimball (1895–1985) From an October 1978 general conference address.