“Hi, honey.” Mom smiled as Keri hopped into the car.
“How was activity day?”
“Terrible,” Keri mumbled.
Mom pulled out of the parking lot and headed down the street. “What happened?” she asked.
“We planted flowers in Sister Jackson’s front yard.”
“That was nice of you.”
“Sister Jackson didn’t think so. She got mad at us.”
“She said that petunias were her favorite flower, and we planted mostly marigolds.”
“That’s too bad.”
“It gets worse. She said we have to come back later and do it right. Mom, we can’t spend all of our activity days at her house. We’ve got other plans. All the girls want to learn how to knit so we can have matching scarves this winter.”
Mom patted Keri’s knee. “Tell you what—for family home evening we can plant petunias at Sister Jackson’s house. How would that be?”
Keri frowned. “All right, but it won’t be any fun. She’s grumpy and mean and demanding. We’d better have great refreshments so the night won’t be a total loss.”
The next Monday night Keri, Mom, Dad, and Keri’s little brother, Cole, arrived at Sister Jackson’s house with a box full of petunias. When Sister Jackson answered the door, she wasn’t smiling. “Plant them in the front,” she ordered, pointing with her cane. “And not too close together. Petunias need space to grow.”
As Keri and her family worked, Sister Jackson came out onto her porch. “You’ll need mulch,” she said. “I want the fine, red kind—none of that chunky gray stuff. Make sure you get enough.” She turned and hobbled back into the house, letting the screen door slam shut behind her.
“See what I mean?” Keri growled. “She’s never satisfied. There’s always one more thing to do. This service project is going to go on and on for eternity.”
“What’s wrong with that?” Mom asked, pulling off her gardening gloves. “The commandment to love our neighbors doesn’t have an expiration date. And eternal projects might just bring eternal blessings. Now, let’s go get the mulch while Dad and Cole finish planting the flowers.”
But all the way to the store, Keri kept grumbling. “What’s wrong with her, anyway? Why can’t she be grateful for what we’ve done? Why does she have to be so critical all the time?”
“I’ve been thinking about Sister Jackson,” Mom said. “She lives alone with no family nearby. She hasn’t been able to go to church for months because of her poor health. She must be lonely. Her home teachers and visiting teachers come, but the only time anyone else visits is when there’s a service project.”
“You mean, she’s stretching out this job so we’ll keep coming to see her?”
Mom nodded. “I think so.”
Keri shook her head in wonder. “Well, if she weren’t so grumpy, maybe people would want to visit her more often.”
“No one likes to always be asking for help,” Mom explained. “And no one likes to be seen as a ‘project’ to be finished and forgotten. Maybe that’s what makes her feel grumpy. Perhaps she wants to be viewed as a real person with something to give. Maybe she needs to serve, not just be served.”
Mom shrugged. “I don’t really know. I guess we need to find out more about Sister Jackson.”
When they got back from the store, Sister Jackson was sitting on her front porch doing some kind of handicraft. As Dad and Cole helped lift the large bags of mulch from the back of the car, she squinted at them over her eyeglasses. “I also want that plastic edging around the flowers replaced with brick. You can bring the bricks next week.”
Mom winked at Keri, and Keri rolled her eyes. Then Keri noticed what Sister Jackson was doing. She was knitting! Suddenly Keri knew exactly what to do—if she dared. Wiping her hands on her jeans and saying a little prayer for courage, she stepped toward the porch. “Uh, Sister Jackson,” she said, “do you know how to knit?”
Sister Jackson leaned back in her chair and frowned. “Of course I do, child. Don’t you have eyes?”
“Ah, yes, well, we—that is, the girls who planted the marigolds and I—we’d like to learn how to knit scarves. Do you think you could teach us?”
Sister Jackson’s eyes lit up for just a moment. “But I can’t get out to the church, honey,” she said softly.
“That’s OK. We’ll come here, if that’s all right. It might take us a lot of lessons, though. We’re pretty slow learners.”
Sister Jackson nodded, and a faint smile crossed her lips. “I guess I could find the time somehow. Get a paper and pencil from my kitchen table, and write down what I tell you to bring. We’ve got to decide on colors and patterns, too. Go on now—it’s right inside the door.”
Keri looked at her mother and grinned. She knew that this was just the beginning of an activity that could go on for a long, long time. Maybe even for eternity. But that was OK with her.
“May we go the extra mile to include in our lives any who are lonely or downhearted.” President Thomas S. Monson, First Counselor in the First Presidency, “Now Is the Time,” Ensign, Nov. 2001, 61.